The most prominent position change Brian Kelly made when he took over the Fighting Irish last year was moving Theo Riddick from wide receiver to running back. A year later, Kelly is contemplating moving the shifty junior back to running back.
After a slow start to the season, Riddick began to flourish in week 3 with a breakout performance against Michigan State. Riddick reached the endzone for the first time in his collegiate career that night in East Lansing while recording 10 catches for 128 yards.
Over the next three weeks Riddick continued his strong play with 23 catches for 215 yards and two touchdowns.
Project out Riddick’s four week totals over the course of a 12 game season and you get 99 catches and 1,029 yards with 9 touchdowns. Not bad for a converted running back playing wide receiver for the first time.
Unfortunately, Riddick was injured early on against Western Michigan and ended up only recording three more catches for just 18 yards in his final three appearance of 2010.
Despite that success, however, Kelly said Friday that he and the staff would contemplate moving Riddick back to running back this spring.
“We’ve learned so much more about our football players and what they’re capable of doing – what their strengths and weaknesses are,” Kelly said Friday.
“We’re evaluating what our identity became compared to where it was at the start of the season. You can make the case now that Theo Riddick should be a running back,” Kelly added.
The Notre Dame offense at the start of the season and at the end of the season were very different. After the injury to Dayne Crist, Notre Dame began to rely on the running game much more heavily than before. That shift in philosophy is one of the driving forces in Kelly contemplating position changes such as Riddick back wide receiver.
“A lot of this has to do with how we started on offense and where we finished and where our players best fit in the style of offense we’re going to play,” Kelly explained.
Riddick was used much more in the running game against Miami than he had been before his injury albeit out of the wildcat formation. Should Riddick move back to running back, or even just take some reps there, it’s very possible he plays more of a hybrid role such as what Percy Harvin did at Florida a few years ago. Riddick is too talented a receiver and too elusive a runner in open field to not utilize his receiving skills.
The development of other players at both positions could very well determine where Riddick ends up as well. If for instance, Cameron Roberson or Jonas Gray emerges in the spring, either could form a solid backfield along with Cierre Wood.
At receiver, had Michael Floyd not returned for his senior season, Riddick would have almost certainly had to stay at wide receiver. With Floyd back, however, Notre Dame could shift Riddick to running back if needed as long as one of the many young receivers on the roster emerges.
For now though, the staff hasn’t made any definitive decisions on where Riddick will be lining up in 2011. “I think we’re going to have to have that conversation as a staff. I think we’re going to have to vet that out. I’m not ready to do that right now.”
When Kelly is ready to do that, it’s safe to assume he’ll use Riddick where he can get him the ball most frequently, because Riddick showed, when healthy, last year that he is one of the most dynamic playmakers on the Irish roster.