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‘Pick your poison’: Bombers’ Oliveira excited to play with Streveler

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Near the end of Blue Bombers practice on Monday, Brady Oliveira took a handoff up the middle, bounced off a few defenders and broke into the open field for a big gain.

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Canadian football’s top ball carrier is back, and his timing is impeccable.

After missing all of training camp, Oliveira is ready to face live bullets when the Bombers open the regular season at home against Montreal on Thursday.

“I did everything out there today,” the 26-year-old Winnipegger said. “I wasn’t limited at all. We’re good to go.

“I feel stronger than ever.”

For Oliveira, that’s saying something.

An off-season workout fiend with the legs to prove it, he figures maybe he overdid the training, resulting in an injury the Bombers were taking no chances with.

“I’ve just got to understand I’m not 21 anymore when it comes to training,” he said.

He also feels like he didn’t get as much as he could have out of last season.

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You read that right.

Despite a CFL-leading 1,534 yards on the ground and another 482 through the air, Oliveira says he and the offence “left a lot out there.”

That was one of the first things he said to running backs coach Jason Hogan early in camp, while watching film from last year.

“Yeah, it’s crazy,” he acknowledged. “We don’t really talk about numbers much here, but man, we could have rushed for 2,000 yards last year. It’s exciting, though, because we know there’s so much room for growth.

“We had a really good year as a unit, but it could be better. So let’s just keep striving for greatness and let’s be the best that we can be.”

One of the things that has Oliveira fired up is the return of Chris Streveler as a change-of-pace quarterback behind Zach Collaros.

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The two have barely suited up together, as Oliveira suffered a season-ending injury just two games into the 2019 season, when Streveler arrived on the scene.

Combined, the pair are 438 pounds of hurt for would-be tacklers.

Bombers running back Brady Oliveira
Running back Brady Oliveira carries the ball during Winnipeg Blue Bombers practice on Monday, June 3, 2024. Photo by KEVIN KING /Winnipeg Sun

Both have never met a defender they don’t mind lowering a shoulder into.

“It’s going to be interesting to see how defences want to line up and try and stop both of us back there,” Oliveira said. “You’re going to have to pick your poison. You’re not going to be able to stop both of us.”

First they’ll have to figure out who’s getting the ball.

And when Collaros is in, they’ll have to respect a passing game that features Kenny Lawler, Dalton Schoen and Nic Demski, three receivers expected to flirt with 1,000 yards again this season.

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While most of the faces around him are familiar, Oliveira feels the need to improve his communication with the big men blocking for him.

“That’s why I’ve spent so much time with the offensive line,” he said. “Because there were times when I wasn’t on the same page with them.”

The Bombers have two new starters in the front five, as well: Eric Lofton replacing departed all-star Jermarcus Hardrick at tackle, Liam Dobson in for the unsigned Geoff Gray at guard.

Not doing drills in camp allowed Oliveira to hang around the linemen more, on the field and in the meeting room, learning to “talk their lingo,” and see how they see things.

He’ll be able to treat the hogs to a steak dinner or two this season, too: he more than doubled his salary to around $250,000 per season, making him the highest-paid back in the league.

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With the dollars comes some pressure – if you let it.

He’s carried a similar weight before.

When Oliveira first took over the starting job from fellow Winnipeg product Andrew Harris last year, he felt the burden of expectation for a few games, before settling in.

Then he ran wild.

He doesn’t expect a repeat stumble out of the gate, having learned it’s not all about him, but a locker-room full of teammates.

“As I’ve learned to become a pro and honouring your teammates every single week, that’s when you see my play start to change,” he said. “Come in every single week and just play my style of football. Because it’s been working, right? So keep it up.

“I truly believe the sky is the limit with this unit.”

pfriesen@postmedia.com

X: @friesensunmedia

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