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Patient Branden Oliver Set to Play Key Role

The last time the Los Angeles Chargers faced the New York Jets, Head Coach Anthony Lynn was on the opposite sideline as the visitor's running backs coach.

It was a day to remember for the Bolts but one Lynn would rather forget as the Chargers won handedly, shutting out the Jets, 31-0.

However, the lasting memory of that game was the breakout performance of an undrafted rookie named Branden Oliver.  Thrust into action after injuries ravaged the Bolts' running back corps, Oliver earned Pepsi NFL Rookie of the Week honors after rushing for 114 yards and scoring two touchdowns against the NFL's top ranked rushing defense.  During the win, Oliver became the first Charger with a 50-yard catch and a 50-yard run in the same game since Lionel "Little Train" James in 1985.  He was the first NFL rookie to accomplish that feat since Clinton Portis in 2002.

"I just remember he tore it up," Lynn said this week. "I've known him since college as well. His coach was my coach at one time, so I've kept up with his career. But I remember that was a coming out party for him. That was a big day for him."

"Shoot, he had some big runs," Philip Rivers added. "He had one big long run down their sideline. And he had some other good plays in that game; caught a touchdown pass and had some other good runs."

The next two seasons were difficult for BO as a toe injury ended his sophomore campaign in Week 8 while an Achilles injury in the preseason cost him all of 2016.  Oliver had some opportunities the first three weeks of this season as a complementary back to Melvin Gordon before a hamstring injury forced him to miss the Week 4 and 5 wins over the New York Giants and Oakland Raiders. 

In his place, Austin Ekeler took hold of the number two running back job, performing so well, it was impossible to take him off the field.  As such, Oliver was a healthy scratch in recent weeks.  Humble and hardworking, he didn't make a fuss.  After all, the team was winning.

"I'm very excited to get this chance because it's been a while," he said.  "I've been patiently waiting.  It got hard knowing what I'm capable of doing in bringing my skills and skillset to the team.  At the same, we were winning.  At the end of the day, that's what (matters).  That was good to see."

However, with Ekeler's role in doubt after sustaining a wrist injury, the Bolts will now rely on Oliver to play a big part on offense as they look to make a postseason push.

Rivers for one is grateful to have someone of BO's ilk waiting in the wings.

"You never hope someone goes down, but Branden's been really patient," number 17 said.  "Patient to where (for) he himself, it's probably been hard for him.  But, you're going to get a guy that's fresh who's still stayed in it. The guy's a real pro. You're going to get a fresh back that doesn't have a lot of wear and tear as you get down to this time of the season. It can be a real positive thing. We'll see how Ekeler does with whatever apparatus he ends up wearing. But, it'd be good to have BO. You never want to see guys go down, but when they do, you're thankful to have a guy like BO ready to go."

Oliver agrees being fresh down the stretch is a silver lining to being inactive for so long.  He knows he'll be relied upon to keep the Bolts' offense humming.

"It's definitely good to be fresh," he said.  "I haven't really done much this year.  I played a little bit earlier, but not much recently.  I'm definitely fresh.  I'm ready to get back out there."

So how much does Oliver reflect on his big game against the Jets being that he'll take on that very same opponent this Sunday?

The answer is less than you may think.

"I think about it, but not much," he said matter-of-factly.  "It's years later.  But that was crazy being an undrafted rookie and doing that.  That was my best game.  That was my breakout. But I'm really just focused on (this week)."

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