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March 22, 2012

Riddick back where he belongs

Theo Riddick looked comfortable sitting down in the Guglielmino Center auditorium after his final first spring practice. Maybe it was the nearly 10 pounds he'd packed on since last season, even if his published weight remains virtually unchanged. Or maybe it's just because he's returned to running back, the position that suits him best.

"It's completely natural," Riddick said. "I've been playing it since I was eight years old. I can play it in my sleep."

That's a contrast to slot receiver, which based on the constant questions lobbed at Brian Kelly about Riddick's lack of production the past two seasons, probably kept coach and player up at night.

Riddick was Kelly's first big position switch, designed to make the spread off go. Riddick finished his slot stay with 78 catches, 850 yards and six touchdowns.

Technically, make that five touchdowns. When Riddick scored against Florida State in the Champs Sports Bowl he'd already returned to running back after missing a couple late-season games with a hamstring injury. The longest catch of Riddick's career came from running back too, a 45-yarder from Andrew Hendrix at Stanford.

That doesn't mean Riddick's two years invested in slots went to waste. With Notre Dame merging running back and inside receiver this season under Tony Alford, Riddick has the rare distinction of making two positions switches but never changing position coaches.

"He can play running back and he can play wide receiver," Kelly said. "I think the rest now becomes tactical advantages that we have in terms of where we place him on the field. We really have some great matchup opportunities.

"We're not going to spend all spring on him picking up the linebacker that's blitzing in the B-gap. So you can see where we're going with him. We're going to get him out. It's going to create great matchups for us."

Kelly approached Riddick about returning to running back fulltime after the winter break. After watching Jonas Gray play himself into a potential NFL draft pick before his major knee injury against Boston College, Riddick saw how being a second-string back doesn't automatically diminish pro potential.

"I never felt me moving to wide receiver hindered me as a football player or anything like that," Riddick said. "It was just one skill that I had to develop and something I've got to continue on working at."

Riddick will get a second shot at returning punts this season after fumbling two returns in the upset loss to South Florida, losing one. Much like the receiver position, it wasn't a spot where Riddick ever got comfortable.

The running back comeback should alleviate that. The experiences of last season should too.

"I just learned that just because you have talent doesn't mean that you can go out there and turn it on and off," Riddick said. "You have to play every second and you have to concentrate on every play.



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