Branden Oliver looks to squash injury bug in Chargers RB battle

SAN DIEGO -- Due to injuries, Branden Oliver has a total of 108 rushing yards over the last two seasons.

The Los Angeles Chargers running back hopes to finally stay healthy in 2017, earning a role as a complementary back to workhorse Melvin Gordon.

Oliver also has a new number: 32. It’s the same number he wore in college at Buffalo and was available once longtime Chargers safety Eric Weddle left for the Baltimore Ravens in free agency last offseason.

“A lot of guys, even defensive guys, think I’m a rookie sometimes,” joked Oliver. “It’s a little different, but I feel the same. A number doesn’t make you. I'm not superstitious or anything like that.”

Philip Rivers said it’s been an adjustment seeing Oliver with No. 32 instead of his usual No. 43.

“He’s really picked up right where he left off,” Rivers said. “The hardest thing for me has been getting used to his new number, so that’s been the biggest change. I was like, ‘Who the heck is No. 32?’

“But he looks good. He looks explosive. And I know it’s early, but I think he’s really a great complement to Melvin. I think their styles are different, but similar. You have two backs that can run all of the same plays, but when you see them, their movement is a little different. And I think it could be a heck of a changeup for us.”

A free agent this offseason, Oliver re-signed with the Chargers because of his familiarity with the organization and offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt’s scheme.

Oliver missed all of last season after tearing his Achilles tendon in the third preseason game against the Minnesota Vikings. He finished 2015 on injured reserve with turf toe, missing the final eight games.

Oliver said he leaned on his family, teammates and faith in God to make it through another season on the sideline.

“That’s my biggest thing, and I’m just taking it one day at a time,” Oliver said about staying healthy. “You know that nothing is promised. As much as I look back and how much I wanted to do great things, the injuries have been there. But at the same time this was good for me. I grew more mentally and emotionally. So I’m taking it one day at a time and leaving it all out there.”

As a rookie, Oliver led the Chargers with 582 rushing yards in 2014. At 5-foot-8 and 208 pounds, he offers a similar skill set to that of the departed Danny Woodhead. Oliver could fill some of the void left by the talented pass-catcher who signed with the Ravens in free agency.

“Danny was a unique guy,” Rivers said. “I feel thankful that I’ve had a chance in Danny and Darren Sproles to maybe have two of the more unique backs in the last decade or so. Those two guys were probably the best at what they do in that role they played.

“Bo [Oliver] can do some of that stuff, but I think Bo is more of just a pure running back than he is doing all of those things that Danny did. But certainly Bo can do some of those things.”

While the offense has remained mostly the same, Oliver said the addition of head coach Anthony Lynn, a former running backs coach, added a new dimension to the offense.

“His mindset as a running back and mentality is real good for me,” Oliver said. “I like it a lot.”

So far, Lynn said he’s liked what he’s seen from Oliver.

“He’s doing really good,” Lynn said. “He’s fully recovered coming off the Achilles. He’s making cuts and he looks like his old self.

“He can be that power runner, but he can also run out on the perimeter. What he also does, which I don’t think a lot of people give him credit for, is he catches the ball really well.”