Around the CFL: Hometown RB Brady Oliveira shining for Blue Bombers

Winnipeg Blue Bombers' Brady Oliveira (20) celebrates his touchdown against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats during second half CFL action in Winnipeg Friday, June 9, 2023. (John Woods/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

The CFL has awarded its most outstanding player award to a running back just once this century.

Winnipeg Blue Bombers star Brady Oliveira is making a case to double up that total this year.

As Ted Wyman of Postmedia Winnipeg pointed out this week, the Winnipeg-born Oliveira is on pace for the second-most rushing yards ever in a season by a Canadian running back — trailing only former Calgary Stampeders star Jon Cornish, who tallied 1,813 rushing yards in his 2013 MOP season.

While Oliveira faces stiff competition just to get the team nomination for the MOP with quarterback and two-time reigning MOP Zach Collaros as a higher-profile teammate, there’s no doubt the 26-year-old is making a serious impact for the West Division leaders.

“He puts on his own boots every day,” Blue Bombers coach Mike O’Shea said of the five-foot-10, 222-pound powerhouse.

“I don’t think he’s wearing shoes. He’s wearing big work boots. He’s a pleasure to watch. He’s serious about his craft and becoming a good professional and he brings it. I just think his teammates really appreciate that. He brings it every game for sure.”

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The Blue Bombers entrusted the 2019 second-round pick for a starter’s role after letting fellow Winnipeg-born star Andrew Harris depart in free agency to the Toronto Argonauts last year. Harris, nearing the end of his great career, helped the Argos win a Grey Cup last year and is playing a secondary role this year on a league-leading team led by the widely expected East MOP nominee — quarterback Chad Kelly

Harris and Oliveira went to the same high school, so the comparisons are natural. But while he holds Harris in high regard, Oliveira wants to be judged on his own merit.

“Everyone wants to keep comparing. I think we’re totally different people,” Oliveira said. “Maybe there are some similar traits, but I think we’re different as players. I’m coming for more. I’m still young in my career. I know the sky’s the limit for myself.”

Oliveira, who played college football at North Dakota, leads the league with 1,144 rushing yards, a whopping 315 ahead of Edmonton’s Kevin Brown. He also has 368 receiving yards and a combined nine touchdowns.

Oliveira had perhaps his best game as a pro last week in a 51-6 demolition of the Saskatchewan Roughriders, piling up 154 yards on 18 carries and catching four passes for 57 yards with a TD.

“I think you can tell he’s more comfortable with the way we run the football with the scheme we have,” Collaros said. “I’ve said it a lot to you guys, he’s a great receiver out of the backfield. He’s a great teammate. He also goes out and blocks for me so receivers can get the ball. I’m really not surprised.”

What We Liked in Week 14

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• The Edmonton Elks flipping the script on the Calgary Stampeders. One week after the Stampeders rallied for a comeback win in the Labour Day Classic, the Elks used the same formula to win at Commonwealth Stadium.

• The Blue Bombers’ offence. Six touchdowns on six drives in the first half to avenge a loss the previous week in Saskatchewan.

What We Didn’t Like in Week 14

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• The Redblacks losing their sixth in a row, a 27-24 setback to the visiting Hamilton Tiger-Cats. Ottawa’s playoff hopes are all but toast, which won’t help the team in that market.

• The Montreal Alouettes committing four turnovers in a loss to the Argos. Not a way to win a big game.

Power Rankings

1. Toronto Argonauts (10-1, first last week): Statement win over the Alouettes to kick off a home-and-home series.

2. Winnipeg Blue Bombers (10-3, second last week): Speaking of statement wins, it doesn’t get any more convincing than their triumph over rival Riders.

3. B.C. Lions (8-4, fourth last week): With Ottawa and Edmonton next on schedule, the Lions still can push Winnipeg for first.

4. Saskatchewan Roughriders (6-6, third last week): Couldn’t maintain momentum after big wins over B.C. and Winnipeg.

5. Montreal Alouettes (6-6, fifth last week): Signing of linebacker Darnell Sankey, returning from the XFL, this week should help the defence.

6. Hamilton Tiger-Cats (5-7, ninth last week): Hardest team to figure out this year. Beat Ottawa after just three days off between games.

7. Edmonton Elks (3-10, seventh last week): Tre Ford continues to give Elks fans reason for hope.

8. Calgary Stampeders (4-9, sixth last week): Costly loss to Edmonton doesn’t help in playoff push.

9. Ottawa Redblacks (3-9, ninth last week): Team destined to miss playoffs for the fourth season in a row.

Week 15 Picks

Toronto Argonauts (-6.5) at Montreal Alouettes, Friday, 7 p.m. ET / 4 p.m. PT: Argos clinch first in the East with six games to go if they win here. PICK: Montreal

Edmonton Elks at Saskatchewan Roughriders (-3), Friday, 9:30 p.m. ET / 6:30 p.m. PT: Elks have won three of their last four after 0-9 start to season. PICK: Edmonton

Winnipeg Blue Bombers (-6.5) at Hamilton Tiger-Cats, Saturday, 4 p.m. ET / 1 p.m. PT: Ticats are 1-5 at home in a year in which they are hosting the Grey Cup. PICK: Winnipeg

Ottawa Redblacks at B.C. Lions (-9.5), Saturday, 7 p.m. ET / 4 p.m. PT: Redblacks have a bad record, but they keep most games close. PICK: Ottawa

2023 Picks Record: 29-26

Lines from FanDuel as of Thursday.

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