Allen Park — In the first week of Lions training camp, running back Theo Riddick has been untouchable. It’s not about his sleek shifts in the backfield or fleet footwork, which has made him one of the most intriguing and productive players in the Lions’ offense.
Along with the quarterbacks, Riddick is wearing one of the red practice jerseys, signifying that he’s not to be hit, as he looks to protect his right wrist. Riddick had surgery last season and missed the last three games, after a promising start to last season.
He’s worked to stay in shape and has returned to training camp with a new regimen: he’s cut out red meat and is now a vegan.
“I turned vegan over the summer. I’ve noticed a difference just with my energy level,” Riddick said Friday. “I’m not a junk-food type of eater. I’m like a smoothie guy; I do a lot of fruit and throw my kale and all my protein in there and that’s how I get everything.”
At 5-foot-10 and about 200 pounds, Riddick has tried to find a delicate balance between strength and speed, as one of the ascending pass-catching running backs in the league. Riddick, 26, is entering his fifth season and on the heels of the wrist injury, is looking to bounce back along with Ameer Abdullah, to add more punch to the run game.
The big change didn’t come as a mandate from the team or even from a dietician or nutritionist. In fact, it was a bit closer to home.
“My lady,” Riddick said. “It was from reading documents and watching documentaries (such as Netflix’s ‘What the Health’).
“Watching things like that is alarming on a lot of levels because of a lot of things you don’t know in terms of things you eat on a daily basis such as chicken and drinking milk has no nutritional value. You have to be conscientious of what you’re putting in your body.”
For all of the offseason, the Lions have kept a watchful eye on Riddick, taking a more cautious approach to ensure that he doesn’t sustain a freak injury before the preseason even gets started. Riddick did individual work throughout organized team activities earlier in the summer and his conditioning has kept him in shape and ready to go.
Donning the red jersey is just another checkpoint on the way to being back at full health for Riddick, dodging any final obstacles along the way. It’s just a couple weeks until the preseason opener on Aug. 13 and the regular-season opener on Sept. 10.
“He’s coming along well in terms of cardiovascular shape; he’s in good shape and moving around out there,” coach Jim Caldwell said. “The only thing we’re not allowing him to do is have contact. He went to the ground one time but other than that, he’s making good progress.”
Riddick had his best season in 2015, when he played all 16 games and totaled 80 catches for 697 yards and three touchdowns. Paired with a healthy Abdullah in the backfield, the tandem could bolster what was one of the worst rushing backfields in the league last season.
Only time will tell — and the first contact from a hit after the red jersey comes off.