Tolbert jumps at offer to join coach McDermott with Bills
By JOHN WAWROW, AP Sports Writer
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — When Bills rookie coach Sean McDermott called, Mike Tolbert jumped at the opportunity to sign with Buffalo.
That was the best way Tolbert could describe the strong bond he established with McDermott during their previous five seasons in Carolina even though the two — Tolbert a fullback, and McDermott the Panthers defensive coordinator — worked on opposite sides of the ball.
“He called me and he was like, ‘I need you. I want you.’ And I’m like, ‘I got you,'” Tolbert said Friday, two days after signing with the Bills in free agency.
“He’s obviously one of the sole influential reasons why I decided to come here,” he added. “I know his mentality. I know his mindset. I know the type of coach he is, the type of man he is. And I like being around positive things.”
Tolbert’s presence in Buffalo is one indication of the personal stamp the 42-year-old McDermott is placing on a team two months since taking over following Rex Ryan’s dismissal.
A nine-year veteran, Tolbert brings leadership to the locker room and versatility to the field as a blocker, runner, receiver and special teams player.
“The ‘Toll-Dozer,'” McDermott said, referring to one of Tolbert’s several nicknames. “He’s just got that ‘it’ that people gravitate toward.”
Tolbert’s addition also indicates the emphasis the Bills are placing on a LeSean McCoy-led running attack that has topped the NFL in yards rushing for two consecutive seasons. Aside from Tolbert, the Bills also signed fullback Patrick DiMarco.
The Bills also continued shuffling their backfield , with the team cutting veteran safety Corey Graham on Friday a day after starting safety Aaron Williams was cut. Buffalo has addressed both vacancies by signing defensive backs Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer in free agency.
Tolbert combined for 992 yards rushing and 13 touchdowns, and 771 yards receiving and six touchdowns in 72 games with the Panthers after spending his first four seasons in San Diego.
Tolbert easily recalled his first encounters with McDermott during early morning workout sessions at the Panthers facility. The two eventually grew so close that their wives became good friends.
It’s no surprise to Tolbert that McDermott landed a head-coaching job. He foresaw that potential based on the respect McDermott earned from Panthers defensive players.
“That’s a guy that can command a room, can take charge,” Tolbert said. “So I knew sooner or later he was going to get an opportunity. And I’m just happy to be a part of it.”
McDermott is already establishing a no-nonsense approach to a Bills team that was criticized for lacking discipline during the previous two seasons under Ryan. One of McDermott’s first moves was removing the pool tables and video-game boards from the locker room.
“We’ve got to make sure that we stay focused on the task at hand, and that means earning the right to win on a daily basis,” McDermott said. “And so I don’t believe that playing video games in the locker room is part of earning the right to win.”
McDermott’s emphasis on versatility and leadership is also evident in Hyde, who can play both safety positions, cornerback and return punts.
Hyde, who signed a five-year contract, noted how his various roles helped him develop into a leader during his previous four seasons in Green Bay.
“I think it slowly got to the point where I was kind of the middle man,” Hyde said. “I was on the field with a lot of different guys and became the voice of reasons between the rooms. Sometimes you need that. So I was able to provide that and that’s something I definitely took pride in.”
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