Jake Brown IrishIllustrated.com Recruiting Analyst
Late last season Theo Riddick returned home out of necessity, just not in the literal sense.
Riddick matriculated to Notre Dame as a highly regarded running back but switched to slot receiver when Brian Kelly took over the program. After fits and starts catching passes, Riddick returned to the offensive backfield in November, much to his liking.
“I came in as a running back,” Riddick said. “I love the position. Just to have the opportunity to go back there and display the talents that I thought I always had was very exciting.”
Now the senior has a chance to showcase both his original skills and those acquired after spending a chunk of his career lined up in the slot.
Kelly and new offensive coordinator Chuck Martin have fashioned a hybrid position for Riddick and others cut from the same cloth, like freshman Davonte Neal, where they will cross train between running back and slot receiver in hopes of creating matchup problems on Saturdays.
Riddick should make for an interesting test case as he was Notre Dame’s third leading receiver last season with 38 catches for 436 yards and three touchdowns. He also pitched in 14 carries for 63 yards.
“I think he fits that hybrid position more relative to his ability to stay in the passing game,” Kelly said. “We didn’t want him just to be a tailback. We wanted him involved. This position came together as we started to fit the offense to our players. So the offense, in terms of what we're doing, really fits Theo.
“So he gets both that ability to run the football and line up as a wide receiver. He feels comfortable with it, and then we’re seeing the benefits of that as coaches.”
After the Irish kicked off practice Saturday, Riddick said he liked his new role and had confidence he and Cierre Wood can both crack the 1,000-yard mark this season.
Adding it all together should keep Riddick a busy man.
“I want as much as they can put on my plate,” he said. “It’s my senior year. I wanna go out on top. With that being said, I’m just trying to do the best I can.”
Special teams should return to Riddick’s game day experience.
Punt returns were a punch line around Notre Dame last season as Riddick, John Goodman and Michael Floyd combined to run back 13 attempts for an average of just 3.7 yards. Riddick returned three punts for minus-one yard.
Riddick claimed he never lost confidence in his ability to make an impact on that unit despite struggles in his chances and ceding the job to Goodman.
“I never lost my confidence,” Riddick said. “That was the major thing, you know what I mean? A lot of criticism came out and a lot of players would put their heads down. I kept my head right up high. I guess you could say it’s a good thing but I wanna be there full time.”
Riddick spent the spring and summer working to that end. He often fielded punts in a crowd in an effort to become more comfortable.
Kelly hasn’t dived into special teams in practice just yet and isn’t worried about Riddick’s output.
“We’ve got a number of guys that we're going to work back there,” Kelly said. “I think I’m more concerned with him on the offensive side of the ball right now.”