NCF Nation: Roby Toma

Charley Molnar was the wide receivers coach under Brian Kelly at both Central Michigan and Cincinnati, where he helped develop some of the most prolific passing attacks in the nation. Now he's the offensive coordinator at Notre Dame, where he's helping Kelly transform the Irish into a spread offense.

I caught up with Molnar earlier this week to see how the installation of that system is going:

Molnar
Molnar
How are the players adjusting to the new offense?

Charley Molnar: The first six days were spotty. We could see that if they were concentrating on the fundamentals we taught them, they were forgetting the plays. And if they were concentrating on the plays and trying to execute them perfectly, their fundamentals weren't very good. But the last two practices, they've really started to do what we've asked of them from a fundamentals standpoint and also getting a command of the offense.

Is this a normal timetable for getting this stuff down? Was it similar at Cincinnati?

CM: At Cincinnati we had the advantage of having the bowl game [Kelly's staff took over before the 2007 International Bowl], so that gave us 10 extra practices before we started spring ball to really learn our offensive system and fundamentals. Here, the first day we came out to spring ball, they were a total blank slate from the standpoint of really knowing what our expectations were. But these guys try so hard, and we have so many guys who are real pleasers on the football team and guys who will do anything you ask. So we're really on course to have our offense in by the time summer camp ends.

How much different is it from going to a pro style offense to your spread system?

CM: The biggest difference right now is just learning a whole new set of terminology and whole new mindset in the way we attack a defense. And also fundamentally we do things quite differently than the previous staff did. So these guys really have a lot of learning to do. Nevertheless, it's not that we're so drastically different that they can't get it. I would say for the most part, especially the last couple of practices, they're really settling into the offense and into the speed we work in practice. That may have been the biggest adjustment for them -- how fast we work in practice.

This offense had quite a bit of success under the previous coaching staff. Have you kept any of the old plays that worked well or is it just all totally your stuff?

CM: We didn't keep anything. We didn't even ask what the previous staff did. We're putting in our system. And of course with coach Kelly, we're always looking to evolve the offense based on our personnel and based on things that occurred to us the previous season, and we're always adjusting. The 2010 Notre Dame offense will not look like the 2009 Cincinnati offense. There will be some evolving going on here.

How is Dayne Crist coming along?

CM: He's got a strong arm, and he seems to be poised in the pocket. He really is a very diligent student of the game. He spends a lot of time watching video, asking good questions. We can't see Dayne run around because of the knee, but we've also not allowed Dayne to use his knee as a crutch or an excuse not to run the offense.

So can you fully evaluate him yet?

CM: I don't think we can get a full evaluation of him until summer camp, until he can run around a little bit. As far as reading coverages and making the right checks, he shows he can do that. Now, it's a lot easier when you know you're not going to get hit and you can just sit in the pocket and go through your reads. It's totally different when you're live. On the other hand, we probably wouldn't want our quarterbacks to get hit too much in the spring anyway.

You worked with some excellent receivers at Cincinnati. How do the ones at Notre Dame compare? And how is Theo Riddick's transition to receiver going?

CM: Michael Floyd is a special player and very, very similar to Armon Binns, who we had at Cincinnati. Both are big, physical players who can go up over a DB to get the football. So he's a lot of fun to work with. Theo is going to be an outstanding talent. Right now, I'm coming off a shoulder injury so he's a little bit limited in what he can do. But every once in a while you get a glimpse of how good he could be. He's got speed and he really possesses good hands for a guy who spent most of his life playing running back.

We have probably eight or nine guys still fighting for a seat on bus. Shaq Evans has been highly competitive, along with John Goodman, Roby Toma, Barry Gallup -- they're all fighting to win a spot, either as a starter or a key backup. I think the competition will go all the way through to the summer, I really do.

How about running back? Is Armando Allen the No. 1 guy there?


CM: Possession is nine-tenths of the law, and he's been in that spot. He's been a tried and true performer for Notre Dame, so he's doing a very good job. But so is Robert Hughes, and Jonas Gray and Cierre Wood. Any of those guys could potentially be our starting running back and I wouldn't lose any sleep over it. I think have good depth and a highly competitive group.

Just for you personally, what's it like to be the offensive coordinator now at Notre Dame?

CM: I really feel like I've got the best assistant's job in the country.
Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

What we learned from Notre Dame in its 20-16 win over Boston College:

1. The defense is opportunistic, if not good: On the plus side, Notre Dame held the Eagles to just 16 points and shut down running back Montel Harris. On the minus side, this is a Boston College team that had totaled just 21 points in its previous two road games, and rookie Dave Shinskie became the latest quarterback to set a career high against the Irish defense, which gave up 10 passing plays of 20 yards or more.

Notre Dame made quite a few personnel changes on defense, including starting Sergio Brown at safety and moving Harrison Smith from safety to linebacker. In the end, three interceptions and five total turnovers saved the team's bacon.

"I think the defense is on the rise,” coach Charlie Weis said. “I think that that's the most important thing. I think that we are getting better at certain things every week. A lot of these guys are getting more experienced. Coaches are tweaking some personnel, and I think that our best football is yet to be played.”

2. When in doubt, go to Golden Tate: It was a frustrating day for the Irish offense, as Boston College's defenders tried to keep everything in front of them, and Weis instructed Jimmy Clausen not to take shots downfield. The result was just one offensive touchdown into the fourth quarter. But with Notre Dame trailing 16-13, Clausen found Tate on a pass that was nearly tipped, and Tate shake-and-baked the rest of the way for the 36 yards winning score.

That's three straight 100-yard receiving games for Tate, who's been magnificent since Michael Floyd got hurt.

3. Roby Toma was not just a Te'o throw-in: Rival fans accused Notre Dame of giving receiver Toma a scholarship just because he was the high school teammate and best friend of stud recruit Manti Te'o. Well, Toma proved his value by catching two passes for 13 yards in his first career game Saturday, pressed into action because of Robby Parris' injury. Even if Toma had been merely a recruiting enticement, he might have been worth it. Te'o continues to improve at linebacker and recorded nine tackles -- two of them for loss -- against Boston College.

Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Two years ago, Charlie Weis threw a bunch of true freshmen into the fire because he felt he had no other choice.

With 18 returning starters back and more depth than he's had before at Notre Dame, that's no longer the case.

"The guys who get on the field now as freshmen get on the field because they're really good, or they're playing on special teams," Weis said. "But I'm telling you, on offense and defense right now, to get on the field means you're pretty good."

The Irish brought in a well-regarded recruiting class this offseason, so there are several pretty good true freshmen who might see immediate time. The list begins, to no one's surprise, with linebacker Manti Te'o, who very well might start from Day 1.

"He's definitely in the picture," Weis said. "I expect to see him on the field in the opener. I don't think he'll be on the sidelines."

Running back Cierre Wood was one of the more highly-touted signees, and Weis said both he and classmate Theo Riddick have been impressive so far. He said one or both could play early.

"Both these guys have made it more difficult for the coaching staff to make personnel decisions because neither one has played themselves out of contention," he said. "Cierre is a bigger guy, more bruising guy who can run inside and out. Theo is one of those guys who's got a second and third gear.

"Cierre came in with the hype in the recruiting process, but he's got no leg up on Theo, because Theo has been quite impressive as well."

Weis said both guys could play on the kick return team. Whether they get carries depends on if they can climb past Armando Allen, Robert Hughes and Jonas Gray on the depth chart.

Depth is also the reason why receiver Shaquelle Evans will have to fight for time. He's physically impressive already, and Weis said he runs precise routes and has great hands. The only problem -- and it's a great problem for the Irish -- is that he's behind Golden Tate and Michael Floyd.

"So does he backup Golden, because they have similar speed," Weis said, "or do you put him opposite of Golden and now you've got speed on both sides right there?"

On defense, safety Zeke Motta should play on all four special teams and might work his way into the defensive backfield rotation, Weis said. The coaches like nose tackle Tyler Stockton a lot, but because of depth he might be "a luxury item" that the Irish can redshirt and develop, Weis said. The same goes for offensive linemen Chris Watt, Alex Bullard and Zach Martin, all of whom Weis said would probably be in the two-deep in past years.

Ben Turk (punting) and Nick Tausch (placekicking) are both battling for specialist jobs, and Weis plans to decide on those positions after Sunday's practice. If it's too close to call, like it is now, he said he'd likely go with a veteran option instead. Jordan Cowart will serve as the long-snapper.

Even receiver Roby Toma, who went to the same Hawaii high school as Te'o and was viewed as an enticement to get Te'o, has been impressive, Weis said.

"Everybody thought he was the Punahou [School] throw-in, but that's not the way it's working out," Weis said. "He's competitive and is one of our better blockers at 110 pounds or whatever he is. He's a pain in the butt."

What doesn't bother the Notre Dame staff is that it has a lot of skilled freshmen -- and no real pressing need to play them unless they want to do so.

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