Lions' Riddick a breakout candidate after Bush release

Dave Birkett
Detroit Free Press
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Detroit Lions running back Theo Riddick celebrates his game-winning touchdown against the Miami Dolphins on Nov. 9, 2014, in Detroit.

Quarterback Dan Orlovsky made the bold prediction last year that Theo Riddick would catch 50 passes and be a Darren Sproles-like threat in the Detroit Lions' offense.

Riddick didn't quite reach those levels in his second NFL season, but Orlovsky might have been a year premature in his forecast.

The Lions cut Reggie Bush on Wednesday, in a cost-cutting move that saved them $1.7 million in salary cap space and should open up more playing time for Riddick.

Last year, Riddick, a sixth-round pick out of Notre Dame in 2013, played mostly as an injury fill-in for Bush. He caught 34 passes for 316 yards and was used sparingly in the running game, but Lions coach Jim Caldwell said at the NFL combine last week that Riddick is ready for an expanded role this fall.

"It depends on what we want to do with him, but he's capable of carrying it more than what we gave to him," Caldwell said. "I think you can see his numbers, in terms of his out-of-the-backfield catching the ball, things of that nature, they jump out at you. So he's got a unique skill there. But he's also a good ball carrier. So we'll see how that goes."

The Lions' No. 3 running back behind Bush and Joique Bell to start last season, Riddick had just six offensive touches in the first five games before Bush's ankle injury opened the door to more playing time.

He caught five passes for 75 yards to spark an October win over the Minnesota Vikings, had eight catches for 74 yards two weeks later in a win against the Atlanta Falcons, and made a fingertip grab for the game-winning touchdown in a November comeback against the Miami Dolphins.

Bush missed all or part of all three of those games, plus three more, because of injuries. But Riddick's role never evolved beyond a receiving option who occasionally split out wide in the slot. He never had more than three carries in a game and never showed Bush's vanishing second gear.

General manager Martin Mayhew said last week that he considers Riddick more running back than receiver. With Bush gone, he finally might get a chance to show it.

"As you can see, the (running backs) that we have now have different strengths, and I want to build our roster with guys who can do different things in the course of a game," Mayhew said. "An all-around back is good, obviously. When you have a guy like Theo Riddick, who can make a difference in the passing game, that brings value to your team. Joique Bell, being a between-the-tackles runner for us is big, and he does a good job catching balls out of the backfield, as well. I like guys that are versatile, but you've got to have a guy who can run between the tackles, and you've got to have a playmaker who can do some stuff in place."

Contact Dave Birkett at Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

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