ND to use ‘three-headed monster’ at running back
By Mark Lazerus 648-3140 or email@example.com August 19, 2012 10:58PM
Notre Dame wide receiver Theo Riddick (6) celebrates with teammates after catching a touchdown in the fourth quarter of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 10, 2011, in Ann Arbor. Michigan won 35-31. (AP Photo/Tony Ding)
Updated: September 21, 2012 6:17AM
SOUTH BEND — Theo Riddick started his Notre Dame career as a running back. After his sophomore season, he was moved to wide receiver. Toward the end of his junior year, he was moved back to running back.
Apparently, this offense thing isn’t all that difficult.
“All you have to do to play receiver is know route concepts, which is very simple,” Riddick said.
Offensive coordinator Chuck Martin agrees. And since Notre Dame’s offense requires all of its running backs to catch the ball out of the backfield, and to spend some time as a slot receiver, Martin won’t have a lot of patience for any of his running backs who bristle at the idea of being a multi-purpose back.
“There’s not a whole lot to buy into,” said Martin, in his first year as the Irish offensive coordinator after coaching the secondary the last two seasons. “There are more opportunities to touch the ball than just having it handed to you. If you don’t want them, we’ll find someone else who wants them. I don’t even get the discussion of, ‘Oh, I’m just a tailback.’ We have the opportunity to get you the ball in space, and you don’t want it? For me, it’s a pretty easy sell.”
An easy transition, too. At least, it should be for the likes of Riddick, senior Cierre Wood and sophomore George Atkinson III.
“It’s not that sophisticated,” Martin said. “They’re taking classes at Notre Dame; they can learn how to run a wheel route. They just took a Calc 2 test, and now they’re going to learn how to run a wheel route. ... What I’m asking you here is not a four-page physics problem.”
It’s actually more of a math problem for Martin and head coach Brian Kelly. With what Riddick deemed “the three-headed monster” in the backfield, the trick will be to find enough touches to go around.
Involving the backs in the passing game more — especially in the wake of all-time leading receiver Michael Floyd’s departure for the NFL — is one solution to that problem.
“We can move them anywhere on the field, as well as (have them) play the running back position,” Kelly said. “They’re all going to play. And it would not be a surprise if a couple of them were on the field at the same time.”
Wood is the nominal starter after splitting most of the carries with Jonas Gray last year. The shifty, 6-foot, 215-pound Wood actually led the team in all-purpose yards last year with 1,102 rushing and 189 receiving.
The 5-11, 200-pound Riddick, who moved back to the backfield after Gray tore his ACL against Boston College, was the Irish’s third-leading receiver with 38 catches for 436 yards and three touchowns.
The speedy Atkinson only got nine carries last year, but averaged 26.1 yards per kick return, including two touchdowns.
Earth, Wind and Fire?
“Well, I think we all have a little of all of that — we’re each Earth, Wind and Fire,” Riddick said. “That’s what makes us so talented.”
And that’s what makes Kelly and Martin so eager to come up with new ways to get the ball in their hands.
“It makes you bring your ‘A’ game on a day-to-day basis,” Riddick said. “You’ve got two phenomenal players in Cierre and George, and you’ve got me. With that depth, we should have some great things to see.”