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Switch should benefit both Wood and Riddick

Matt Gamber | Thursday, April 22, 2010

In one of his first public personnel decisions in early March, Irish coach Brian Kelly said he would move sophomore Theo Riddick from running back to wide receiver to clear room in the backfield for, among others, Cierre Wood.

Riddick was second to only Golden Tate in all-purpose yards for the Irish last season, as he racked up 160 yards rushing, 43 receiving and 849 returning kicks as a true freshman.

Wood, on the other hand, never saw the field in his rookie campaign — something the new staff wanted to change to ensure the Irish used as many of their playmakers as possible.

“It’s been a good opportunity, just learning the offense and everything that comes with it,” Wood said. “I’m real comfortable with it. I’m so versatile, they can line me up as a receiver, in the slot — either way, I’m going to do my thing, period. I think this offense fits me perfect.”

Running backs coach Tim Hinton said Wood has made significant progress given the increased workload this spring.

“Cierre’s had a really solid spring and he’s getting better every day,” Hinton said. “He’s the rawest of the guys we have, but he got the fewest reps of anybody coming in here. He has more development to do than most, but he wants to be good and he understands what it’s going to take for him to be good.”

For Riddick, while his position has changed, his individual coach hasn’t. Wide receivers coach Tony Alford coached the running backs last year and was the only assistant retained from Charlie Weis’ staff. He said Riddick is far from a finished project but has shown promise in his first few weeks at receiver.

“He’s still learning some things,” Alford said. “He’s got to pay attention to the details of the game, nuances of the routes, getting in and out of breaks and things like that. But he’s coming along.”

Though Riddick is the only running back to have made an official position switch this spring, Hinton said the new offense demands every running back be capable of splitting out and catching passes.

“Those guys are going to learn how to be wide receivers, and they’re in the development stage in that,” Hinton said. “Listen, if you’ve got the post route and you’re the back, run that post route like you’re the best receiver in America and catch it like you’re the best receiver in America, because that one opportunity might win us a game.”

Even with Riddick’s move, the running back position will still be one of the most competitive on the roster, with Armando Allen, Robert Hughes and Jonas Gray all returning after contributing last season.

“Competition makes us all better, and they all want to play,” Hinton said. “I told my guys very honestly, if you’re selfish and really worried about playing time, or numbers of runs or catches, or you see a buddy mess up and you’re almost happy he messed up instead of coaching him better, you’re the wrong guy for us. The bottom line is this is about us winning.”