O'HARA: Opportunity plus production equals more reps for Riddick

Posted Aug 7, 2015

Running back Theo Riddick is a prime example of a player who got playing time the old-fashioned way. He earned it.

Theo Riddick isn’t looking to score points with his unorthodox style of catching passes.

“It’s a little awkward, I guess,” Riddick said after the Lions’ training-camp practice Thursday. “A lot of people kind of make fun of me.

“A lot of people say my hands are always placed differently. I kind of look it in. My hands do the rest. “

But nobody is asking him to change, and why should he?

“As long as I keep catching them,” Riddick said, “I’m not worried about it.”

Riddick was the Lions’ most sure-handed receiver out of the backfield last year. He made catches, gained yards – and scored points with touchdowns.

Theo RiddickRB Theo Riddick (Photo: Detroit Lions)

Riddick caught 34 passes for 316 yards and four touchdowns. He was credited with only one drop, which was the lowest of any of the Lions’ tailbacks. Reggie Bush, who signed with the 49ers in the offseason, and Joique Bell both were credited with four with 40 and 34 receptions respectively.

Riddick is a prime example of a player who got playing time the old-fashioned way. He earned it.

He was used sparingly as a rookie two years ago as a sixth-round pick out of Notre Dame. He had nine carries for 25 yards and a touchdown and four receptions for 26 yards.

Riddick did not have a catch last year until Game 5, when he caught five passes for 75 yards and a TD in a 17-3 victory at Minnesota. He was used more often after that, and he made use of his opportunities. Matthew Stafford was not reluctant to go to him in key situations.

In the win over Atlanta in London he had eight catches for 74 yards and a touchdown. He had a crucial 20-yard reception in the drive to the game-winning touchdown. In the next game against Miami he caught an 11-yard pass for the winning score with 29 seconds left.

Riddick’s experience playing wide receiver at Notre Dame before switching to running back helps him as a receiver. Strangely, he says he had trouble catching the ball when he first played receiver.

“It was really a struggle when I first started playing receiver,” he said. “Believe it or not, I couldn’t catch the ball when I started playing receiver.”

Because of his skill level and reliability, he can line up in the backfield, in the slot or split wide.

“It helps to be a receiver out there,” Riddick said. “You can create mismatches with strong safeties and linebackers. It adds another element to the game that we bring. Not to be redundant, but we can just create mismatches.”

There is a pretty simple equation for a player to build trust and get more playing time. Opportunity plus production equals more opportunities and more production.

“It’s consistency,” head coach Jim Caldwell said. “He has shown that, obviously, he has some real proficiency in some areas where he can catch the ball out of the backfield. He’s a good route-runner. He’s real solid in terms of his assignments things of that nature.

“But I still think he’s growing and developing, and you can see just his ability to run inside and out keeps growing and developing. I think that certainly has created, obviously, some trust because he’s highly productive for us.”

Try to change Riddick’s catching style?

“Not as long as it works,” Caldwell said. “And it works for him.”

Unless something develops in training camp and the preseason, the Lions will not have a true lead back like the other three teams in the NFC North – Adrian Peterson of the Vikings, Matt Forte of the Bears and Eddie Lacy of the Packers.

All three – led by Peterson, an eventual Hall of Famer – have been 1,000-yard runners and Pro Bowl players.

The Lions have more of a running-back committee, with players of different skills at tailback.

Last year, Bell took the major share of the running load with Reggie Bush unavailable or limited by injuries. When healthy, Bush provided a play-maker with speed. George Winn was a power-runner in spot duty and a solid contributor on special teams.

While Bell recovers from knee and Achilles injuries that have kept him from practicing, rookie Ameer Abdullah has made a strong impression with his smooth, overall ability as a runner and receiver.

It makes for an interesting mix, and Riddick is an important part of it.