- Brian Bennett, ESPN Staff Writer
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When Notre Dame's offense lined up for the first time as a unit for fall practice this month, four of the first five plays went Theo Riddick's way. Riddick caught short and medium passes from his inside receiver position and also hauled in a swing pass from out of the backfield.
Get used to that. You may see more Theo on NBC this fall than when "The Cosby Show" was on the air.
While Michael Floyd and the quarterbacks draw the most attention, Riddick is the team's most versatile player. And he might be the most important one for the offense to improve this season.
"Once you get the ball in his hands, he can do so many things with it," quarterback Tommy Rees said. "He's so explosive with the ball, it's something we need to try and take advantage of."
Riddick came to Notre Dame as a running back but moved to wide receiver last year. He showed glimpses of what he could do, catching 40 passes for 414 yards and three touchdowns. But he missed four games and was slowed in others by a foot injury. Even when healthy, Riddick was going as much on instincts as anything.
"He knows what he can do,” Kelly said last weekend. “He knows the offense. He knows where he fits in the offensive structure. He was just feeling his way through it last year, trying to learn a different position. He is an extraordinary athlete.”
Riddick's ability to play running back could also come in handy this year, as the Irish are thin there. Cierre Wood is the starter, and Jonas Gray projects as the power back. But behind them are two true freshmen. Kelly wants to keep Riddick at receiver but knows he can use him in the backfield in a pinch.
"I'm very comfortable with [running back]," Riddick told reporters last week. "I played all my life until last year. If the time comes and they need a little more support there, I love them both."
Thing is, there's just as pressing a need at receiver. Floyd is an All-American talent, but he needs a complementary player to keep secondaries honest. And while Floyd is a big, physical wideout, Riddick provides the speed element the passing game needs. Riddick compared his combination with Floyd like a high-low play in basketball.
The other area he can help is on special teams. Notre Dame's return game was nothing special last year, and Kelly wants more out of it. Riddick is a natural fit on kick returns and welcomes the opportunity.
"I feel like I can make a huge dent," he said.
Kelly's best team at Cincinnati used Mardy Gilyard in similar fashion, lining him up at different spots as a receiver and utilizing his speed as a top-flight return man. Notre Dame has had other versatile offensive weapons in the past like Golden Tate and Rocket Ismail.
Now it's Riddick's turn to be that guy. Get used to seeing him with the ball in his hands a lot this season.
19hMax Olson and Jake Trotter