This article is a part of our 2012 Player Projections series. During the summer months BlueandGold.com will be evaluating each player on Notre Dame’s projected two-deep depth chart — reviewing their careers to this point and discussing expectations for the year to come.
Robby Toma caught 14 passes as a sophomore and 19 as a junior. Can he raise the figure higher in 2012?
Robby Toma — Slot/RB
Height: 5-foot-9 Weight: 185
Experience: 24 appearances, 6 starts
Stats: 36 receptions, 415 yards (11.5 yards per catch), 1 TD
From the time he signed with Notre Dame in February 2009, Laie, Hawaii native Robby Toma was generally categorized two ways.
One, he was a throw-in recruit to join good buddy and fellow Punahou High teammate Manti Te’o on the Irish campus. Two, maybe he could develop into another Joey Getherall, who enjoyed a productive career at Notre Dame from 1997-2000 as a wide receiver (74 career catches) and return man (16.33 yards per punt return in 2000 with two TDs) despite his 5-7, 175-pound size.
Toma is not as swift as Getherall was and consequently has had only kick return in his career (11 yards as a freshman). However, he has earned the respect of his coaches and teammates. Last August he joined the top dozen players as a Notre Dame player representative on Media Day.
“He really is mirroring the kind of things we want to do on offense,” said head coach Brian Kelly on why Toma was singled out as a team leader. “He was chosen because of the way he’s practiced, the way he prepared, because of the way people on our offense look toward Robby Toma.”
At the end of the regular season, Toma was the recipient of the team’s Next Man In Award, signifying him as the top reserve. He finished with 19 catches for 207 yards and a touchdown, and started the last four games.
With all-time Irish receiving leader Michael Floyd now in the NFL, Toma returns for his senior year with the fourth most receptions among the slot/running back or wideout figures, behind Theo Riddick (84), TJ Jones (61), and Cierre Wood (47).
It was unusual to see Toma working with the running backs this spring, but that is what the newly implemented running back/slot role requires.
With the conventional offenses from days of yore, a team might have thrown 20 passes per game while lining up with a fullback (almost obsolete today beyond the triple-option teams) and tailback. Today, 20 passes per half is not uncommon — especially because the bubble screen or shovel pass are classified more as “running plays” than a pass, thereby making a slot receiver part running back and requiring three or four players per game ready to rotate in and out.
“It’s not necessarily that Robby runs the inside zone extremely well; it’s matching personnel so that we can move guys to different positions on the field,” Kelly summarized. “Multiple formations that allow us to move the defense … where it opens up for [tight end] Tyler Eifer or someone else.”
In this spring’s Blue Gold Game, of the 66 “touches” via a run or completed pass, 39 of them involved players from the running back/slot position, most notably George Atkinson carrying 15 times for 124 yards and catching three passes for 54 more. Riddick led all receivers with eight catches for 63 yards, and also had five carries for nine more.
Toma caught one pass (nine yards) and carried once (four yards). A case can be made that next to Eifert, Toma might have the most reliable hands on the team. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see him on the field in third-and-4 to third-and-6-type situations where a quick, well executed route and sure hands are at a premium to keep the chains moving.
What's A Good Season?
Despite the graduation of Floyd, it doesn’t mean that Toma suddenly has an opening. The outside positions will be headed by TJ Jones, John Goodman and Davaris Daniels, with junior Daniel Smith and incoming freshmen Justin Ferguson and Chris Brown potential options during the season.
Toma also will be in a logjam at running back/slot. The top three figures are seniors Wood and Riddick and emerging playmaker and sophomore Atkinson. Sophomore Amir Carlisle (sidelined this spring with an ankle injury) and incoming freshman Davonte Neal, who might receive an audition at corner, also could vie for action.
Realistically, if Toma can match last year’s 19-catch total (Getherall had 17 catches as a senior), produce about 10 first downs, including off a jet sweep or counter pitch, he probably will have exceeded expectations at an area of the roster that is well fortified.