June 3, 2014 at 6:53 pm

Theo Riddick's role might be larger in new Lions offense

Allen Park — Theo Riddick had a larger-than-expected role as a sixth-round pick in 2013, becoming a key special teams contributor and the No. 3 running back as a rookie for the Lions.

In the new offense, Riddick could have a bigger part based on the Saints offenses, which new offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi worked under the past seven years.

New Orleans had at least four running backs with a minimum of 40 carries each of the last four seasons.

“I’m just waiting on an opportunity,” Riddick said after organized team activities Tuesday.

Riddick had nine carries for 25 yards and a touchdown, and four catches for 26 yards last year. He was effectively Bush’s backup, and 2011 second-round pick Mikel Leshoure was Joique Bell’s backup.

This year, though, Riddick said the coaches expect all the running backs to provide versatility.

NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah tweeted this week that Riddick is his “favorite sleeper” for this season, and Lombardi listed Riddick as a player who has surprised him.

“He’s definitely a sleeper,” Bush said. “When you watch him in practice and you see him in action, he’s definitely a guy that can make plays from anywhere on the football field.”

Riddick spent much of the offseason training in New Jersey with his high school football coach, but also went to Honolulu for a week to train with former Notre Dame teammates Manti Te’o, a linebacker for the Chargers, and Robby Toma, calling the tropical workouts “intense.”

Now that he’s back with the Lions, Riddick said he’s trying to learn every detail of the new offense.

Even if Riddick doesn’t have an expanded role, he still likely will be a part of the punt and kickoff units after displaying a knack for both last season.

“My approach was to do anything possible to kind of make the roster,” Riddick said. “If playing special teams was one of them, I was going to do it.

“It was the simple fact that I was able to kind of fulfill my dream in a sense and actually play. It was good to get my feet wet and play in that atmosphere so that when I go out there this upcoming year, it isn’t foreign to me.”

Riddick’s game isn’t foreign to free-agent wide receiver Golden Tate after the two spent the 2009 season at Notre Dame.

“I know every day he comes off the field after running a play asking coach, ‘How was that? What can I do better?’ ” Tate said. “And that’s one thing you have to admire about a player. He has a lot of talent as is, but after that, he’s also trying to be a technician and understand the details of the offense and what he can do better to help us win.”

Carey on the rise

Don Carey was a backup safety for the Lions last season, but played multiple games as a nickel cornerback.

Because of his versatility on defense and special teams, the Lions signed Carey to a three-year extension in December, and based on OTAs, it looks like new defensive coordinator Teryl Austin expects Carey to continue that trend in his fifth season.

“Having been around the league, guys like Don are hard to come by,” Austin said. “He is smart enough to play a bunch of different positions, but also having the physical ability to do it.”

Carey has spent time working with the cornerbacks and safeties in OTAs, including sliding into James Ihedigbo’s spot on the first-team defense Tuesday. He and DeJon Gomes are expected to be the top backup safeties, but if the cornerbacks struggle, he could make an appearance there, too.

“He’s a pretty valuable piece for us, and I know he does a great job on special teams,” Austin said. “You have to have your starters, but you’ve got to have a lot of guys like Don Carey on your team if you want to win.”

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Lions running back Theo Riddick takes the handoff from quarterback Kellen Moore during OTAs on Tuesday at the Lions' practice facility in Allen Park. / Daniel Mears / Detroit News