With new Offensive Coordinator Mike Shula taking over, fans are working under the assumption that the running game will see a re-birth, a re-emergence if you will. While this is a noble idea, the reality is: an offense that has finished seventh and 12th the last two seasons is not going to be completely over-hauled. There will be some tweaks. There will be an emphasis on faster, quick-hitting, north/south runs, but the shotgun will remain the prominent formation and Cam Newton will still run the zone-read.
Another sign that the offense will be similar under Shula is the decision to keep FB Mike Tolbert in a FB role. If the Panthers were going to flashback to 2003--back to their 'three yards and a cloud of dust' days with John Fox, they would have signed a proven blocking-oriented FB in the offseason.
Either way, the Panthers will look to returning starter Mike Tolbert as a blocker, a runner and a reciever at the FB position. There was one interesting addition at the FB position, however, as the Panthers signed UDFA Michael Zordich from Penn State. Let's evaluate the what role these players look to fill in 2013...
The 'bowling ball with spikes on it' may be more of a tailback, but he also serves as the Panthers' primary FB. Tolbert was not asked to lead-block very much last season (his first year with the Panthers). He wasn't asked to do much of anything, in fact, until the team began to use the running game a bit more extensively. Tolbert finished the year with only 183 yards on 53 attempts (3.4 ypc), but managed to 'vulture' seven TDs and picked up 24 first downs. Tolbert was arguably more effective as a receiver, amassing 268 yards on 27 receptions (9.9 ypc), with 13 first downs.
All the more glorious were Tolbert's touchdown dances. For that brief moment, as the 5' 9", 250lbs back works his magic, there is no wrong in the world. Speaking of dancing, Tolbert recently stated that he wants to be the next football player to appear on the show "Dancing with the Stars." I think they're scared, but we'll see if anything develops there.
Chance of starting week one: 99%, chance of making the roster: 99%
Zordich played in 51 games with seven starts at Penn State. He played both fullback and linebacker as a freshman before moving to fullback full-time as a sophomore. Zordich finished his career with 115 rushes for 384 yards with nine touchdowns and 22 catches for 200 yards. The bulk of Zordich's work came in his senior season (2012), where he ranked second on the team with 301 yards and four touchdowns on 80 carries, in addition to being the primary lead blocker for a 1,000-yard rusher for the second consecutive season.
Zordich has good pedigree. His father (also Michael) was an All-American safety at Penn State. The older Zordich played 12 NFL seasons at CB and safety. He is currently serving as the safeties coach for the Philadelphia Eagles.
The younger Zordich will look to compete with Tolbert and Richie Brockel (who was technically part of the TE preview) for playing time. If a play-call asks the FB to carry or catch the ball, then Tolbert will likely be on the field... But the one area where Zordich could contribute is as a lead-blocker--an area where Tolbert and Brockel are both below average. Zordich must first face the uphill climb that is making the roster.
Chance of starting week one: 1%, chance of making the roster: 40%
Lastly, for your enjoyment... all of teh gifs: