‘I don’t make those decisions’: Bombers’ Brady Oliveira adjusts to backup designation after injury

Photo courtesy: Winnipeg Blue Bombers

Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ running back Brady Oliveira tip-toed the company line on Thursday like he was trying to slip free for a touchdown.

But despite his professed excitement to return from injury, an unusually subdued attitude made it clear that he feels the team’s decision to list him as a backup was a step out of bounds.

“I’m a competitor, man. I’ve been the starter the last two years here and I’ve earned that. I don’t make those decisions though,” a carefully-worded Oliveira admitted to the Winnipeg media.

“Osh made that decision and if he thinks that’s what’s best for this team, we’re gonna roll with it.”

The Bombers surprised many when they listed Oliveira behind Johnny Augustine on the official depth chart for Friday’s home clash with the B.C. Lions. While it remains to be seen how valid that designation is come kickoff, it raised eyebrows to see the league’s top back demoted after missing last week with a nagging knee injury.

The reigning Most Outstanding Canadian missed all of training camp with the ailment but made a hurried return for the season opener against Montreal. He has been unable to practice in the two weeks since, leading to uncertainty regarding whether he’d be able to play at all in Week 3.

According to head coach Mike O’Shea, Oliveira’s position on the depth chart isn’t meant to be punitive, but rather precautionary.

“With very limited practice from the start of training camp until now — next to none — we did put him into that Week 1 game and it didn’t look the way Brady would have wanted it to look,” he explained. “It certainly didn’t look the way we wanted it to look, so it’s just a different approach this week trying to ease him into it.”

Oliveira carried the ball 11 times for 38 yards and caught three passes for 17 yards in Winnipeg’s season-opening loss to the Alouettes. He was unable to finish that game after re-aggravating his knee, which caused him to sit out last week against Ottawa.

“A minor little tweak in that game that maybe set me back a little bit and I didn’t feel like myself. I tried to play through it but it’s hard at the position that we play, the running back position. You need your lower body, you need to feel explosive, you need to feel powerful, and I just didn’t feel that,” the Winnipeg native acknowledged.

“I was trying to do my best out there and I expect a lot more from me. Obviously, this team does, this organization does. It wasn’t our best game but that’s long behind us.”

The five-foot-ten, 222-pound ball carrier was named a league all-star last season after rushing for 1,534 yards and nine touchdowns and making 38 receptions for 482 yards and four touchdowns. He became only the fifteenth player in CFL history to finish a season with over 2,000 yards from scrimmage.

O’Shea made clear that the two-time 1,000-yard rusher will see plenty of use on offence against B.C. However, he believes Augustine, who has carried nine times for 46 yards and two touchdowns this year, deserves to be listed atop the depth chart after taking the overwhelming majority of reps over the past two months.

While that may not sit quite right with Oliveira, it won’t have come as a surprise either.

“I don’t think he looks at the depth chart and goes, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m number two.’ There’s a conversation before that,” O’Shea said. “I think any competitor is going to want more of a role. They all do, everybody does, but this is the way it has to work this week.”

Oliveira did not dispute that a conversation had taken place before the announcement but expressed little interest in understanding the logic behind his coach’s decision.

“I haven’t asked him,” he said. “I’m going to control what I can control. He makes his decisions and if that’s what’s best for the team, that’s what’s best for the team.”

Without a healthy Oliveira to serve as the offensive engine, the Bombers have stumbled to their first 0-2 start since 2016. Quarterback Zach Collaros has uncharacteristically struggled, in part due to a toothless running game allowing defences to drop more players into coverage.

Getting back to the smash-mouth style of football that has powered the team to four straight Grey Cup appearances will be essential for correcting the skid, though O’Shea isn’t panicked about the early results.

“I think our yards per carry at the beginning of the last bunch of years have been a little lower than when you average it out at the end,” he dismissed. “I think it’s a matter of just sticking with it and realizing that if you have a good plan, one good tackle by a defender doesn’t eliminate your plan. As long as you’re seeing the pictures and you’re seeing it unfold the way you planned it to, then you stick with it.”

There is no question that Oliveira believes the solution is to stick with him. While he doesn’t deny that his lack of recent practice will have an effect, he still thinks he’s better than most alternatives.

“I’m not worried about my play. I know what level I can get it to and I know there’s even more for me to reach,” he insisted. “Obviously, it’s the running back position, you’ve got to get into a rhythm and into a groove. … I think it will take maybe a couple of games just to get me into a rhythm but I think my couple of games to get into rhythm might be better than other’s.”

“I feel good. If it was up to me, I’m ready to go. I’m good to go.”

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers (0-2) will host the B.C. Lions (1-1) on Friday, June 21 with kickoff slated for 8:30 p.m. EDT.

J.C. Abbott is a University of British Columbia graduate and high school football coach. He covers the CFL, B.C. Lions, CFL Draft and the three-down league's Global initiative.