Theo Riddick is back. Back in the backfield where he likely belong after two seasons spent as head coach Brian Kelly's necessary slot receiver. There were high points, such as Riddick's 33 receptions in a four-week span during 2010 - a feat accomplished by just four other Irish in program history, and lows, including an ankle injury that ended that stretch of excellence and the fact that the team's quickest football player hasn't scored a touchdown in the second half of any Irish football season.
But it was that two-year stint outside his comfort zone that may enable the elusive senior to finally shine.
"Oh yeah, definitely, definitely," said Riddick when asked if time spent on the perimeter will prove valuable in his new role this fall. "Being a receiver in the spread offense definitely strengthened my hands. Now being in the backfield I can already diagnose what coverage is going to happen in terms of the defenses schemes and disguises.
"It's all played a great role in my development. In the backfield I can almost be like a second quarterback now, where I can view the defense. It gives me confidence, because I know what they're going to do."
Riddick will be used heavily in the team's passing game, as will most of the team's running backs in what is a newly formed hybrid role: RB/Slot receiver. He's the most versatile of a group that will be asked to perform both tasks this fall.
"Well, if you're not versatile, you better be really, really good at being one dimensional," said Kelly of the position's required skill set. "But I wouldn't say that from a recruiting standpoint if you don't have that versatility, we're not going to recruit you. There is more than one way to get this done. But as it sits in our program right now, versatility applies to the guys that we have. So mandatory, no. But it helps in the way we want to run our offense."
Kelly on Riddick's Role "I think he fits that hybrid position more relative to his ability to stay in the passing game. We didn't want him just to be a tailback. We wanted him involved. This position came together as we started to fit the offense to our players. So the offense, in terms of what we're doing, really fits Theo. So he gets both that ability to run the football and line up as a wide receiver. He feels comfortable with it, and then we're seeing the benefits of that as coaches."
Riddick's head shot could accompany a dictionary definition of football versatility. But to date, he's been a jack-of-all-trades/master of none. That should change in his new role, one that will allow him to operate in space, but also afford the chance to feature his two strengths: rare quickness (if not straight line speed) and…power?
"I just wanted to gain weight," said Riddick of his goal since the conclusion of the 2011 season. "That was the biggest thing so I could endure hits during the whole season. I was around 185-190 pounds playing slot. Now I'm 205. That's definitely been helpful. I'm a lot stronger and its really helped me in all areas.
"You can tell the difference, look at the Florida State game when I was in vs. when Cierre (Wood) was in, he was bulkier (stronger)."
That strength aid the senior in the crucial element of pass protection. "Blitz pickup isn't really an issue to be honest. I'm comfortable there."
He has to be, because there are three other ready and able 'backs at the ready, including the lead man Wood, transfer Amir Carlisle, and sophomore George Atkinson, of whom Riddick noted, "All he has to do is hold onto the ball. That's all he has to do. I think we all know the answer to (Atkinson's abilities)."
Of the competition Riddick added, "You can't take a day off because you're being pushed. if you don't come ready or prepared, its going to show. stick out like a sore thumb. That's one great thing. It prepares you mentally to be top notch."
The senior is focused mentally and prepared physically. All that remains is harnessing his intermittently displayed best for three straight months in the fall.