There is no secret that familiarity plays a major role in the NFL, and in life. Friday, the Carolina Panthers announced that they have re-signed defensive end Antwan Applewhite. Terms were not disclosed. The San Diego Chargers signed Applewhite as an undrafted rookie free agent out of San Diego State in 2007, when then-defensive coordinator Ron Rivera, now Panthers’ head coach, was coaching there. One of the reasons why Applewhite decided to re-sign with the Panthers was because Rivera is in Carolina.
After the 6-3, 258-pound defensive end’s stint in San Diego, Applewhite signed with the San Francisco 49ers in July of 2011, only to be released in September.
Applewhite rejoined his old defensive coordinator in Rivera in October and played in 12 games with one start in 2011. Applewhite registered 21 tackles, two sacks and one forced fumble for the Panthers, where he played surprisingly well and the team rewarded him with a deal.
For his career, Applewhite has produced 88 tackles and 5.5 sacks and forced three fumbles. With Applewhite’s signing, the Panthers’ depth on the defensive line has got stronger, as he will tag team with the likes of defensive ends Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy.
On March 19, Rivera welcomed fullback Mike Tolbert to Carolina, as an added dimension for team’s running game and special teams.
Tolbert joins the Panthers after four seasons with the Chargers. Last season, the 5-9, 243-pound back from Coastal Carolina played in 15 games (one start) and led the Chargers with eight rushing touchdowns.
He also contributed on special teams, tying for the team lead with 12 tackles.
“Mike is a very versatile player who can do a lot of different things for us,” said Panthers’ general manager Marty Hurney, via press release. “He plays fullback, catches the ball well out of the backfield, plays running back, and is an outstanding special teams player. It was a good fit and gives us a chance to add another weapon on offense. We are excited about bringing him back to the Carolinas.”
Tolbert debuted in the NFL in 2008 as an undrafted rookie free agent and his best season as a pro came in 2010 when he led the Chargers with 735 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns.
Tolbert has played in 59 career regular games (15 starts), rushed for 1,410 yards and 20 touchdowns on 341 carries, and produced 1,012 receiving yards and six touchdowns on 109 catches.
On special teams, Tolbert, 26, recorded 42 career tackles.
Despite quarterback Cam Newton’s outstanding rookie season in 2011, capped with winning the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year Award, the Panthers struggled offensively and defensively, with no positive consistency.
With the additions of Applewhite, Tolbert and former Baltimore Ravens’ safety Haruki Nakamura, who signed March 16, the Panthers should have more balance.
Defensively, Applewhite is so versatile and athletic, he can plays as a linebacker when in need.
Offensively, Tolbert can catch out the backfield, block for Newton and create holds for running back Jonathan Stewart.
Nakamura, who learned from one of the NFL’s all-time best safeties in Ed Reed, will compete with Sherrod Martin for the starting safety position. However, with his experience, along with Tolbert, Nakamura (a sixth round draft pick in 2008 from the University of Cincinnati) will booster the Panthers’ special teams, with nastiness.