The Detroit Lions kicked off training camp on Monday and the players will be putting on the pads for the first time later today. In the coming six weeks before the regular season begins, I’ve got my eye on second-year running back Theo Riddick as someone to watch.
Everybody knows that Reggie Bush and Joique Bell will be the main tandem in the Lions’ run game, but Riddick is looking to prove he also belongs on the field this season. Riddick played a key role for Detroit on special teams last season, but didn’t get many offensive reps.
This offseason, however, he has generated a lot of buzz with strong performances during OTAs and minicamp, where Bell was sidelined as he recovered from a knee injury. He took advantage of the extra practice reps, and has stood out in the eyes of players and coaches.
Thanks to his strong offseason, Riddick is expected to step into a significant role in Detroit’s offense. There’s a lot of expectations being put on him, especially for a guy who logged just 43 offensive snaps a season ago, but Riddick appears ready for the challenge.
The 5-foot-10 Riddick is an interesting offensive weapon who played two seasons at running back and two seasons at wide receiver at Notre Dame.
He is skilled at creating space for himself on routes out of the backfield, and he becomes a real threat in the passing game when matched up with slower linebackers. In this regard, he is too talented to keep off the field.
While an impressive offseason doesn’t hurt, Detroit’s new offensive system is the main reason the 23-year-old figures to be more involved this season.
First-year offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi now controls Detroit’s offense, and he will be using a playbook similar to that of the New Orleans Saints. Lombardi spent the last five seasons as the Saints’ quarterback coach.
For those unfamiliar with it, the Saints’ offense thrives at keeping opposing defenses off balance in two ways: using a variety of formations and constantly rotating their skill position personnel.
Yes, it’s easy to have success when you have Drew Brees at the helm of such an offense, but it’s also the perfect system for guys with unique skill sets like Riddick.
This system utilizes multiple running backs, where everyone has a role based on their specific skills, who will each get a chance to see the ball over the course of the same game. It has allowed Saints’ backs like Pierre Thomas, Darren Sproles, Mark Ingram, Chris Ivory, and Bush to all have success, often simultaneously.
Lombardi should be thrilled to have a unique player like Riddick at his disposal with this system. Based on his versatility and ability to catch passes out of the backfield, Detroit is going to find unconventional ways to get him touches.
Backup quarterback Dan Orlovsky expects Riddick to have a Sproles-like role in Detroit’s new offense. That’s a lofty comparison to live up to, but everything we’ve seen this offseason indicates he might prove worthy of such praise.
And let’s not forget that Riddick’s role could grow larger still if the injury bug comes for Bush or Bell. Bush has only played two full seasons in his eight years in the league, and Bell, who dealt with knee tendinitis throughout most of last season, has already had knee issues this offseason.
One injury to either of those two, and Riddick’s role changes from the intriguing change-of-pace back to becoming a necessary component of the offense.
The impressive offseason has placed a lot of expectations on Riddick, and now it’s time to prove he’s worthy of the buzz surrounding him. As the third-string back, Riddick will have plenty of chances to showcase his stuff on the field in Detroit’s four preseason games.
The Lions’ first preseason game is on Saturday, August 9. I’ll be keeping my eye on Riddick to see if the hype is for real.