Riddick has 'all the qualities' needed for giant strides

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News
Theo Riddick

Lions running back Theo Riddick generated a lot of hype before the 2014 season as many people expected the team to utilize three running backs under offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi, who previously worked for a New Orleans Saints team that regularly rotated in the backfield.

Through the first five games, all the talk seemed to be hogwash, but in Week 6 against the Vikings, Riddick had five catches for 75 yards and a touchdown, proving he could be a lightning rod as a receiving back when Reggie Bush was out with an ankle injury.

A hamstring injury held Riddick out the next week, but in Week 8 against the Falcons, he exploded again for eight catches for 74 yards and a score.

From that point on, though, Riddick had a couple impressive games, but was mostly limited when Bush was on the field. Now that Bush is gone, Riddick has a clear path to more playing time — if he earns it.

"I do think that he's going to improve," Lions coach Jim Caldwell said last week at the NFL annual meetings. "He has all of the qualities. If you're smart, if you're tough, if you're disciplined, if you have a great work ethic, there's improvement ahead. And he has all those things, so I think he's going to improve.

"And I think he'll force us to get him the ball a little bit more in some situations."

Caldwell wouldn't commit to how much more Riddick would play, but that's nothing new for the coach. Riley Reiff started 31 games at left tackle the past two years, but the team has not yet backed him publicly as the left tackle for 2015.

Riddick's role next season will likely depend on when the Lions draft a running back and what kind of back they take. They could take a three-down type player like Joique Bell, who will be 29 next season, or a shifty speed back like Riddick, which could cut into his playing time.

"I can't tell you that he's going to carry the ball 50 more times, or I can't tell you he's going to get the ball thrown to him 30 more times until we get a chance to kind of work through this gauntlet," Caldwell said. "When we get to the end of the gauntlet, then I may be able to give you a little bit more of a view, but I'm never going to tell you we expect this guy to do this or that. We can tell you is the role that he plays. How much he's going to get it kind of depends on how well we move the ball, how many opportunities we get, what kind of game it is, are we playing great defense. A lot of those things kind of tie in."

Riddick finished last season with 34 catches for 316 yards, a 9.3-yard average. Bush had 40 catches for 253 yards and a 6.3-yard average. Toward the end of the year, Caldwell explained why Bush still played ahead of Riddick.

"It's a guy that's done it, that's done well," Caldwell said of Bush. "You can look at the numbers; numbers don't always tell you the whole story. The guy's still capable, still a talented individual, can still take it the distance if you give him a crack. So, that's how we feel about it."

Last week, Caldwell said those comments didn't mean that Bush received more snaps over Riddick because of experience.

"We don't play guys because of experience. We play guys because of performance," he said.

Ultimately, that logic led the Lions to lean on Bell toward the end of the year, and he finished the season with 34 catches for 322 yards, and a 9.5-yard average that was better than both Riddick's and Bush's. Bell was also by far the most successful runner with 223 carries for 860 yards, and Caldwell said coaches liked the tone he set.

"You've got to go with what's working for you," he said. "In this business, you play potential and you're hoping, you'll be looking for a job in a short period of time."