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December 7, 2011
Next year can wait. There's spring practice, summer conditioning and position-specific drills, and all of pre-season camp.
But for the first time since moving Theo Riddick from running back to the Z receiver position in the spring of 2010, Brian Kelly indicated that Riddick's move back to running back for the Champs Sports Bowl against Florida State could very well be permanent.
"I think there's a possibility," said Kelly of Riddick moving back to running back for his senior season in 2012.
"I don't want to go back to why we did it because it was the right decision based upon Jonas Gray and our program, and we want to get our playmakers on the field. But now that Jonas is out of the mix through injury and graduation, now there's some room at the top for a guy like Theo Riddick to be at the running back position."
Riddick arrived at Notre Dame in the summer of 2009, along with more highly acclaimed prep running back Cierre Wood. But it was Riddick, not Wood, who made an impact as a freshman, logging time in the backfield (29 carries, 160 yards, 5.5-yard average) as well as returning kickoffs while Wood preserved a year of eligibility.
Enter Brian Kelly, who immediately moved Riddick to the slot receiver position, thus elevating Wood to the No. 2 spot on the depth chart behind Armando Allen. Wood moved into the starter's role in 2011 and eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark while Riddick battled injuries and inconsistency at the Z for the second straight season.
When 2011 sensation Jonas Gray went down with a knee injury in the Boston College game, Riddick - who was out with a hamstring injury - returned to running back for the Stanford game. Kelly announced a week later that Riddick would remain at running back for the bowl game.
"I don't know that I'd put my hand down and say, 'No, we're never going to move him again,'" said Kelly of Riddick. "But he looks comfortable at running back right now."
Kelly said that Riddick has asked to spend more one-on-one time with him to brush up on the nuances of the position. He added that he wouldn't have been able to make the move with Riddick had it not been for the emergence of Robby Toma and the versatility of TJ Jones.
"Clearly, somebody had to be established in that (Z) position," said Kelly, who has started Toma at the spot for the last three games. "If we felt like we didn't have somebody there, we'd be concerned.
"But TJ Jones can play the position for us as well, so we feel like with TJ swinging and (John Goodman) going out to X, for a one-game season, we're in fine shape there."
And Riddick's reaction to all this?
"He's been energized. He just wants to play. He's a football player," Kelly said.
Kelly said that freshman George Atkinson III likely will remain at running back long-term, and that several young receivers are in a great position to earn playing time next season.
"If you look at the numbers, we're going to play some young kids," Kelly said. "We really like (DaVaris) Daniels coming along and developing.
"Obviously there are some other young guys out there that didn't get a chance this year as much, and then we're going to be recruiting that. So you'll see some young guys on the field next year, there's no question."
Freshman Mathias Farley, projected as a Z receiver, did not play this season and recently had surgery to remove bone spurs. The Irish currently have verbal commitments from high school senior wide receivers Deontay Greenberry, Justin Ferguson and Chris Brown. William Mahone also is expected to sign with Notre Dame and join the running back brigade, which also includes current freshman Cam McDaniel.
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