This article is a part of our 2012 Player Projections series. During the summer months Blue & Gold Illustrated 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.
Senior running back Theo Riddick is back in his "comfort zone" after two years at wide receiver.
Theo Riddick — RB/WR
Height: 5-foot-11 Weight: 203
Experience: 32 appearances, 18 starts
Stats: 84 receptions, 893 receiving yards, 252 rushing yards, 6 TDs
After two years as a slot receiver, Theo Riddick is moving back to his natural position at running back for his last season in South Bend.
When Irish coach Brian Kelly arrived in 2010 he immediately saw Riddick, who had just finished his freshman season as a running back, as the type of versatile athlete that his spread offense needs in order to operate at full speed. He was going to be to Notre Dame what Mardy Gilyard was to Cincinnati — a player defined by his all-purpose yards more than any other stat and, in Gilyard’s case, a two-time All-American.
For several reasons, that vision has yet to pan out for Riddick in the slot. Ankle injuries slowed him down during his sophomore and junior seasons and held him to a total of 84 catches during those two years. He made several big plays, like a 29-yard touchdown reception in the final minute of a loss to Michigan last September, but didn’t show he could take over a game from the slot like Kelly had hoped.
He moved to running back for the final two games of 2011 to help fill a hole in the depth chart, and ended up sticking around for his final season.
“I’m back to my comfort zone,” he said this spring. “I’m excited to be back there. I can’t wait, to be honest with you, just to show everybody I can do it and be effective at it.”
The position change appeared to energize the now-203-pound Riddick during the spring. He was noticeably thicker and stronger than a year ago. He went looking for contact when he ran the ball during the few brief practice sessions open to the media. He looked like a running back.
It’s hard not to call Riddick’s two years at receiver a failed experiment given the promise he showed in the backfield as a freshman, but he should be able to make the most of his experience this year. Riddick’s knowledge of both positions make him the poster child for Notre Dame’s new hybrid receiver/running back role in its first year.
Of the nine different players that will fall under that category on Notre Dame’s roster this year, Riddick is likely to the be the most mobile. Two season of running routes and working on his hands make him a threat in the passing game no matter where he lines up on the field.
““I learned a lot of stuff that I didn’t really know about the wide receiver position. To be honest, I always thought it was the easiest position. I found out it wasn’t. It helped me out catching the ball, reading coverages and knowing where people were going to be.”
Riddick should be able to give defensive coordinator headaches all year. He can completely change the look of the Irish offense by shifting before the snap, and at the same time Notre Dame doesn’t have to sacrifice any skill because he knows how to play both positions. Riddick should be poised to finally break through and show all of his natural talent during his senior season. Then again, he was poised for breakout seasons as a sophomore and junior as well.
What’s a Good Season?
Notre Dame needs Riddick to become a third go-to option along with fellow seniors Cierre Wood and Tyler Eifert. He will share carries with Wood and receptions with Eifert. If he excels, he’ll do a lot to help both of those players stay fresh and find openings throughout the course of the year.
With roughly 15 combined touches per game there’s no reason that Riddick should end up with less than 1,000 all-purpose yards in his final season, and anything significantly higher than that would be a good sign for the Irish offense. He can also be an asset in the punt return game with his shiftiness. Kelly quickly lost confidence in that part of Riddick’s skill set after a rocky start against South Florida last September. It looks like he’ll get a shot at redemption in training camp, which mean it could be hard to get Riddick off the field in his last season if he lives up to the high hopes he and his coaches have had for the past three years.