Little Hippo Running Wild: A Look at Mike Tolbert
In moving Tolbert to the offensive side of the ball, a force to be reckoned with was created. In his four years at Coastal Carolina, Tolbert helped the Chanticleers (for those wondering, a Chanticleer is, according to CCU’s website, “a proud and fierce rooster which dominates the barnyard”) to three Big South Championships and was named a second-team FCS All-American after leading his team in rushing with 748 yards on 111 carries and 9 touchdowns in his senior year.
Despite his success on the biggest stage, Tolbert reiterated his attitude of placing the needs of the team first in the press-conference after the game against the Cardinals when he stated: “Special teams is my heart. I love special teams. But I love playing football. And offense, whatever. Defense if they want it.” The Chargers can do a lot worse than having Tolbert out there to shore up the weak special teams play that plagued the Chargers in weeks 1 and 3 of the season.
This “whatever it takes” attitude and the desire to lay out punishing hits on opposing players is evident in Tolbert’s style of running that demolishes defensive players like a human bowling ball slamming into pins. Just watch the Christmas day game against the Titans for an excellent example of such destruction. Team that with the style of Ryan Matthews, the Chargers’ highly-touted first-round draft pick, who is far more elusive and speedy for those outside runs and pitch plays, the two create a tandem that is unrivaled in the NFL. As Tolbert said of the duo, “You never know what you’re going to get.”
The only downside of the success of Tolbert in the Chargers’ offensive system is that the Lightning Bug, Darren Sproles, is seeing a diminished number of touches and opportunities to electrify the crowd with his moves and agility. Granted, the onus is on Sproles himself, who has seemed to be plagued with ball security issues, and could only manage 87 all-purpose yards (17 yards on six carries for the offense) and a lost fumble against the Cardinals, the 30th ranked defense in the NFL. The emergence of a power back, the likes of which San Diego has not seen since the days of Natrone Means, to compliment the dynamic running of Matthews does not help matters for Sproles.
As if he was afraid that Norv Turner would relegate him to being just a fullback and taking away most of his touches, Tolbert had his first 100-yard game of his career. Tolbert said this about his first 100-yard game: “It’s a special feeling…My line did a great job opening holes and Jacob [Hester] did a great job at fullback, so it was easier than it looked.”
Even with Turner “committed” to Matthews as the starter, Tolbert will continue to see a large load of the action as a change of pace from the starter. If Tolbert manages to perform somewhere near where his stats from the first 4 games project him to be (even accounting for a bit of a drop off as Matthews comes back into form), he will vastly outperform his salary of $470,000.
Here’s to hoping that AJ Smith will not pull a Vincent Jackson or Marcus McNeill on Tolbert and try to lowball him in contract negotiations, only ending up with a yet another disgruntled player on the Chargers’ hands. Keeping Tolbert around for a long while will not only mean more longevity for Matthews, but will continue to provide fits for defenses in having to game plan for the different styles of running from each back.
A fan of sleep, Tolbert has been sleeping well these past couple of weeks after totaling 281 yards on 51 carries over the course of the first quarter of the season. “I’m happy but I’m tired,” he said after week 4. Get some rest, Little Hippo, it’s been well deserved.