Carolina Panthers’ Mike Tolbert hopes to play for Ron Rivera at Pro Bowl

jjones@charlotteobserver.comJanuary 13, 2014 

Carolina Panthers fullback Mike Tolbert hopes to have a more comfortable trip to Hawaii this month than the first time he went.

Tolbert and his wife were in Hawaii on their honeymoon when a violent earthquake in Japan kept the two on high ground and out of the water.

In two weeks, he’ll return, with his family – and Panthers coach Ron Rivera.

By virtue of having the best record among the losing NFC divisional-round teams, the Panthers staff will coach the Pro Bowl team selected by Hall of Fame wide receiver Jerry Rice.

Tolbert is one of five Panthers going to the Pro Bowl, but said he doesn’t know if he’ll be with Rivera on Rice’s team or with Indianapolis’ Chuck Pagano on Deion Sanders’ team. Teams will be drafted Jan. 22 on NFL Network.

“I ain’t worried about getting the ball,” Tolbert said. “But with it being my first time I’ll be more comfortable being on his team, being around guys that I already know.”

Joining Tolbert in Hawaii for the Jan. 26 all-star game will be linebacker Luke Kuechly, quarterback Cam Newton, center Ryan Kalil and defensive end Greg Hardy.

Making it hard for Hardy: After racking up eight sacks over the final three regular-season games, Hardy was shut out Sunday in the Panthers’ 23-10 loss to San Francisco. The 49ers’ offensive line turned its protection toward Hardy, often giving left tackle Joe Staley an extra blocker to help with Hardy.

“It was tough. They had a great game plan. I told the O line, they kept their composure. They got a lot of us rattled,” Hardy said. “They got a lot of good schemes going early so that we weren’t effective. The quarterback could get in a rhythm.”

The Panthers sacked quarterback Colin Kaepernick once – by a blitzing Kuechly – after sacking him six times in a Week 10 win in San Francisco.

“It’s just one of those days. I’ve got to adjust,” Hardy said. “That’s something (scheme-wise) you get when you get a lot of sacks. When you talk as much as I talk, you’ve got to bring it. … I guarantee it’s not going to work again.”

Clarifying the rule: NFL Vice President of Communications Michael Signora said in an email Monday that referee Carl Cheffers was correct in not flagging San Francisco for 12 men in the huddle late in the second quarter Sunday.

Rule 5, Section 2, Article 1 of the NFL Rule Book states “there can never be more than 11 players in the offensive huddle while the play clock is running.” But if there is an extra player in the huddle and he “immediately leaves” the huddle, the referee can permit him to leave without a penalty.

A video replay of the FOX broadcast shows Cheffers motions for the play clock to begin, and a moment later 49ers tight end Vance McDonald leaves the huddle and runs past Cheffers on his way to the San Francisco sideline.

A 5-yard penalty would have backed the 49ers to the Carolina 6. Instead, they remained at the 1 and would score on a Colin Kaepernick pass to Vernon Davis with five seconds left in the half.

Dean Blandino, the NFL’s vice president of officiating, will discuss this play in detail Tuesday night on NFL Network.

Draft spot: The Panthers will have the 28th overall selection in the 2014 draft, which will take place May 8-10 in New York City.

The spot ties the 2004 draft for the latest Carolina ever has selected in a draft with a first-round pick. The team did not have first-round picks in 1999, 2009 or 2010.

Staff writer Joseph Person contributed.

Jones: 704-358-5323; Twitter: @jjones9

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