Brady Oliveira was born in Winnipeg and drafted and developed into a Canadian Football League star by his hometown Blue Bombers.
And so, heck yeah, the thought of him wearing another team’s colours was enough to make Bomber Nation nervously squirm as the opening of free agency next week inched closer.
Those fears were allayed on Tuesday when the club announced Oliveira had signed a two-year contract to remain with the club through 2025, solidifying the Blue Bomber backfield through the Grey Cup game here in Winnipeg in two Novembers.
Oliveira is to meet with the media via zoom Wednesday morning from Bali, where he is on another winter dog-rescuing mission. In the meantime, here’s a quick take on Oliveira’s return and what it means:
Oliveira’s climb to the Blue Bombers starting running back chores could hardly be represented as a straight upward arrow as he certainly had some career potholes and hurdles to overcome on the way to CFL stardom.
Selected in the second round of the 2019 CFL Draft he was seen as a candidate to one day replace Andrew Harris as the team’s starter. But Oliveira broke his ankle in the 2019 home opener and did not play again that season as Harris & Co. ended the franchise’s long Grey Cup drought. The global pandemic cost him his 2020 season and then in 2021 he split chores with Harris.
He and Johnny Augustine battled for the No. 1 gig in training camp in ‘22 after Harris left for Toronto, but Oliveira struggled to open the year and had completely lost confidence in himself. But when he settled in and found his groove, Oliveira began to emerge as a force, finishing 2022 with 1,001 yards and then morphing into a powerhouse last year as the league’s rushing champion.
THE ‘O TRAIN’ KEEPS CHUGGING
Oliveira’s 2023 season was magical, as he led the CFL in rushing with 1,534 yards, second most by a Canadian to Jon Cornish’s 1,813 yards for Calgary in 2013. He also went over the 2,000 mark in yards from scrimmage, including his 482 yards receiving.
Oliveira rumbled for 113 yards in the season-opening win over Hamilton last June and had seven 100-yard rushing games during the year, including a career-high 169-yard game in a win over Toronto in September. He finished almost 400 yards ahead of Edmonton’s Kevin Brown (1,141) to win his first rushing title.
There were many layers to the Blue Bombers offensive success in 2023, but it’s built on the foundation of controlling the line of scrimmage and backed by a dominant run game.
The Blue Bombers rushed the ball 448 times last year, more than any CFL team and the 5.6-yard average carry finished tied for second with Ottawa behind Edmonton’s 6.1. Winnipeg also rushed the ball on first down more than any other team last season.
Oliveira’s 260 carries last year topped the CFL as did his 85.2 yards per game average. What grew in his game were his receiver skills, as he set career highs in catches (38) and receiving yards (482). And from Day 1 he has been praised by the offensive coaches – and, most importantly, by quarterback Zach Collaros – for his work as a blocker in pass protection.
The opening drive in last year’s Western Final is an example of what Oliveira brings to the offence and how, working behind his offensive line, he helps set a tone for the attack and the entire squad.
Trailing 3-0 to the B.C. Lions after the game’s opening drive, the Blue Bombers then countered with a 10-play march of their own that ended with Oliveira plowing in for an eight-yard touchdown. Amazingly, he had his fingerprints all over the drive with eight carries and a reception – the other play was an incomplete pass.
Oliveira finished the Western Final with 21 carries for 109 yards and then followed that up with another 119 yards and a TD in the Grey Cup loss to Montreal.
A LOOK AHEAD
Oliveira is only 26 – he turns 27 in August – and enters the 2024 season with just 557 carries after losing 2019 to injury and 2020 to the pandemic. A dedicated and regular visitor to the gym, he has handled the pounding of the last two seasons and not missed a single game.
The Blue Bombers have veteran Johnny Augustine coming back this year after he re-signed in January and the addition of battering ram QB Chris Streveler means the club will still be built around a dominant run game.
There’s also this: this franchise’s rebirth has been built partly with a hometown presence, from Wade Miller at the top, to Harris’ arrival in free agency in 2016 to the work of Winnipeggers like Nic Demski, Geoff Gray and Brady Oliveira. That’s an invaluable marketing plum to both the players and the club on and off the field.