Riddick ready to rumble in rebuilt Lions backfield

Rod Beard
The Detroit News
Theo Riddick picks up a first down against the Jets in the Lions' preseason opener.

Allen Park — After the Lions' win over the Jets in the preseason opener, much of the talk was about rookie running back Ameer Abdullah, who had 67 yards on seven carries, including a highlight-reel 45-yard jaunt.

Another rookie, Zach Zenner, drew some raves for gaining 55 yards on 13 carries in the second half. It's a positive development for the Lions' running game, which ranked 28th in the NFL last season, averaging 88.9 yards.

But with Joique Bell still on the physically unable to perform list, the starting back last week — and listed as the starter on this week's depth chart for Thursday's preseason game at Washington — is Theo Riddick.

Bell is close to returning after knee and Achilles issues and his return could give the Lions the depth and versatility they've sought from the position, especially after Reggie Bush's struggles last year.

The days of having an every-down back have gone by the wayside and the Lions, with Abdullah, Bell and Riddick, have assembled a venerable stable of backs that fit well with their offense. Given injuries and multiple play situations, most teams need multiple, talented backs.

"It requires more than one or two (backs), so there's a role for all of those guys," coach Jim Caldwell said. "We don't have two guys the same for the most part. They all have a little different sort of strength and we can utilize that."

"You know, Joique is a power back who also can get on the edge and he can catch the ball out of the backfield. Theo (Riddick) is probably a little bit more of an edge guy. I'm not saying he can't run inside, but he's along the edge a little bit more. I think when you get a chance to see Ameer (Abdullah), you'll kind of see what his style is as well. He's pretty versatile."

Theo Riddick: “We’re all in this together, man. We’re one whole team.”

In the win over the Jets, the Lions rushed for 193 yards; they reached the 100-yard mark only five times last season, with a season-high of 138 against the Bears in Week 15.

Riddick registered just 51 yards on 20 carries in 2014, but was fourth on the team with 316 receiving yards. He often lined up in the slot and was more of a threat out of the backfield as a receiver than a traditional rushing back.

In the preseason opener, Riddick averaged 4.4 yards (35 yards on eight carries) and showed flashes of speed and power that bode well for his production this year.

"Theo got some tough yards, great effort plays and then also he made some people miss, which he's certainly capable of doing," Caldwell said. "So it was fun to get an opportunity to see him go at it a little bit and I thought on the ground he was productive."

At 5-foot-10 and 201 pounds, Riddick isn't built to take the high-frequency contact that Bell can. But his dual ability as a receiver makes him as important to the offense, as he looks to expand his role this year and exploit favorable matchups.

"I just took advantage of the opportunities I was given and fortunately I made the best out of those plays," Riddick said. "(Receiving ability) definitely helps because it's an extra receiver out there. You can create mismatches with strong safeties and linebackers. It's another element to the game that we bring."

Although Abdullah was drafted in the second round and has been the talk of the backfield during training camp, Riddick doesn't have an adversarial relationship with the rookie. In fact, expanding the capability of the position can serve to make more opportunities for all of them.

"He's a teammate, so I'm looking out for his best interests, and mine as well," Riddick said. "I'm just trying to help him out, speed him up on a few things along with Joique and other players who have been here for a little bit.

"We're all in this together, man. We're one whole team."