Ground game gets boost with Tolbert

September, 3, 2013
9/03/13
8:00
AM ET
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Carolina Panthers' running game doesn't look nearly as bad as it did a week ago.

The likely return of fullback Mike Tolbert is a big reason.

Tolbert practiced on Monday for the first time after nearly a month of being sidelined with a hamstring injury. He is optimistic if there are no setbacks over the next few days he'll be cleared to play.

That's good news for a team that really doesn't have another solid option at fullback and already is without running back Jonathan Stewart (PUP, ankle) for at least five games.

Having a solid lead blocker is essential going against a Seattle defense that held Carolina to 82 yards rushing on 19 carries a year ago.

Without Tolbert during the four preseason games, Carolina rushed for only 320 yards, a 2.8-yard average per carry. Injuries along the offensive line contributed to the lack of production, but with the line and Tolbert healing there should be improvement.

There still are concerns, however. With Stewart out and rookie Kenjon Barner not expected to play, 2009 Pro Bowl selection DeAngelo Williams and second-year player Armond Smith will shoulder the rushing load.

And the game plan going into the season was to become a more traditional running team so that quarterback Cam Newton doesn't have to carry as big of a ground role.

“I still love it because we still got a Pro Bowler,” Tolbert said of the running game with Williams. “Whenever you have a Pro Bowler, a lot of things could go wrong, but you can still get positive things done. As long as we've got DeAngelo healthy and I’m getting back healthy, we should be fine."

David Newton | email

ESPN Carolina Panthers reporter

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