Diminutive is a favorite. "Throw-in" was likely the most mean-spirited and off-base, in reference to his recruiting status tied to Notre Dame's signing of high school teammate Manti Te'o. "Mascot"? Admittedly funny enough for Toma to laugh off, but telling nonetheless.
Toma's offensive coordinator Charley Molnar, on the other hand, offered an apt and similarly descriptive phrase for the 5'9" 175-pound slot receiver this week.
"This guy is a ‘playmaking dude'" Molnar offered of his pocket-sized – excuse me – of his pass-catcher. "There are some things he does exceptionally well. Some things he doesn't do so well. But if we can get him the ball and (let him do) the things he does well, he'll be another guy the fans are saying, ‘Hey, they need to get the ball to # 9 more.'"
For a brief stretch last October, Notre Dame was forced to do just that. With one starting wide receiver out (Theo Riddick) another injured during the contest (Tai-ler Jones) and with the team's top target, Michael Floyd, at less than full strength due to a hamstring injury that sidelined him the previous week, someone needed to make a play for the Irish and their newly-inserted backup quarterback, Tommy Rees.
In that eventual 28-27 loss to Tulsa, Toma caught his first of a career-high four passes late in the first half. It was a career-best 26-yard catch-and-run over the middle, forged by a quick cut and the first game day evidence of his surprising ability to run through arm tackles., resulting in an extra 10 yards after the catch.
Toma later added a 14-yard gain, a pass to which he adjusted behind him, earning a first down out of what should have been an errant incompletion. Just five snaps later he repeated the feat – another scrimmage pass thrown behind him resulted in 16 more yards, with Toma running through more arm tackles. 11 more yards, more tackles broken along the way.
For a guy supposedly too small for major college football, Robby Toma's curiously difficult to tackle.
"I feel I'm pretty quick," Toma understated. "I take pride in making the first guy miss. Growing up, ever since my Pop Warner coach Uncle Brian told me, ‘You never let the first guy tackle you,' I've taken pride in making the first guy miss and getting as much yardage as I can in one opportunity."
(Of note: "Uncle Brian" to whom Toma referred, has done more than his share for Irish fans over the years: his full-time job credit as Manti Te'o's father.)
Toma noted last season he models his game after two similarly vertically-challenged pass catchers: New England Patriots All-Pro Wes Welker, and former Hawaii star Davone Bess (currently of the Miami Dolphins). Both cut up zone coverage with regularity. Both excel at their craft not only because of their innate quickness, but for their desire for daily improvement.
As important as the former, Toma appears to share with his idols the latter trait.
"If you look at the Army and USC game, he showed some wiggle, he has good hands, and he loves to play football," said Molnar of Toma. "Who doesn't love coaching Robby Toma? He's so fun; he's out there every day working hard, and he's really good."
Toma appeared in three games for former head coach Charlie Weis, first seeing game action in Week Seven (Boston College) and Week Eight (Washington State), then making just one more field appearance that fall.
He played sparingly for the new regime before a six-game stretch to conclude the 2010 regular season that included a pair of starts (Army and USC).
"I feel I'm just more comfortable with the offense as a whole, so now when coach makes adjustments, I can adjust to those, or at least try my hardest to," Toma said of the biggest difference between last season and this August. "I have a few games and a few starts under my belt. I'm my comfortable and more confident in the slot."
Toma will serve as the backup slot, or Z receiver, in Irish terminology. Either Theo Riddick or T.J. Jones will start there, the other likely working at an outside spot (the "X"), with senior John Goodman furthering the competition outside. Though better suited and likely to remain in his slot role, Toma is well-versed at the X as well.
"Oh absolutely," he offered regarding the need to know each position's role in the offense. "They moved me from Z to X (last year). Since there are always unfortunate injuries, if they need me at X, I can do that to the best of my abilities, too."
As for a stint at the "other" wide receiver position, one occupied by Michael Floyd?
Let's just say Toma's not one to confuse confidence with self-awareness. "Uh…I think he's got (that handled)," Toma joked.
Toma has a role as well: chain-mover, zone buster, and of course, "Playmaking Dude."