A professional career that has taken place in two countries is about to hit its stride for Winnipeg Blue Bombers offensive lineman Geoff Gray, who is primed for a starting role.

A professional career that has taken place in two countries is about to hit its stride for Winnipeg Blue Bombers offensive lineman Geoff Gray, who is primed for a starting role.

The 2017 eighth overall pick re-upped on a two-year contract with the Blue Bombers in January, after playing five games last season. Despite playing 19 Canadian Football League games over three seasons with the Blue Bombers, Gray is confident heading into an expanded role this year.

"I’m super happy to have been with the Bombers and have that continuity," said Gray following Wednesday’s training-camp session at IG Field. "I’ve kind of been on and off the field throughout, but the time I did have on the field has been beneficial for learning."

The 27-year-old Winnipeg native first signed with the club in October 2018 after pursuing NFL opportunities with the Green Bay Packers, New York Jets and Cleveland Browns. He said the experience was beneficial to his career.

<p>DAVID LIPNOWSKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Winnipeg Blue Bombers offensive lineman Geoff Gray has earned praise from his teammates and coach for everything from his work ethic to his cooking.</p>

DAVID LIPNOWSKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Winnipeg Blue Bombers offensive lineman Geoff Gray has earned praise from his teammates and coach for everything from his work ethic to his cooking.

"Everything in the NFL is a great learning opportunity," said Gray. "It’s good just to be around different coaches and different systems."

"The moving around is definitely not the most fun and it’s nice to have that continuity here," he added.

During Wednesday’s training-camp session Gray worked closely with 2021 CFL Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman, Stanley Bryant. The two were lined up beside each other for most of the afternoon and communicated every time the whistle blew during Winnipeg’s offensive run-through.

"He’s smart, he plays well when he gets a chance to play and knows all the positions," said Bryant. "I’m just happy for him to get a chance to come in and play and show what he really can do."

“He’s smart, he plays well when he gets a chance to play and knows all the positions. I’m just happy for him to get a chance to come in and play and show what he really can do.” — Stanley Bryant

Winnipeg allowed a league-low 16 sacks in the 2021 season thanks to the protection of Bryant and the rest of the offensive line. Bryant said mentoring Gray as he moves into an expanded role is key for his development and consistency within the team.

"Every O-lineman that comes in, he buys-in and when it’s time to step up, he steps up and plays well," said Bryant. "They believe that everything starts up front and we take pride in that. We open protect Zach, we open holes for running backs and that’s what we’re gonna continue to do."

While Gray has been recognized for his skill on the field, he’s highly touted by teammates for his abilities in the kitchen. Not only does he play a key role in keeping Blue Bombers quarterback Zach Collaros safe, but he also keeps him happy by making sure he’s well-fed.

"Last year for the West Final he had quite the spread," said Collaros. "I think it was a beef tartare that tasted like Big Mac, he had everything."

<p>DAVID LIPNOWSKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Gray, a 27-year-old Winnipeg native, first signed with the Bombers in October 2018 after pursuing NFL opportunities.</p>

DAVID LIPNOWSKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Gray, a 27-year-old Winnipeg native, first signed with the Bombers in October 2018 after pursuing NFL opportunities.

Beyond Gray’s culinary chops, Winnipeg’s starting quarterback sees him as a great person for the team’s culture and praised him for his physicality and high football IQ.

"I know the guys love him in that room, so it’ll be a good fit," he said.

High football IQ and character are traits that also stick out to Blue Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea. He said that as Gray moves into an expanded role, he’s continued to display aspects of his game the team has liked for years.

In a sport that requires an ample amount of intricate detail, O’Shea is quick to point out the little things in Gray’s game that make him an important piece of the team’s identity.

"If you watch him closely, you’ll see Geoff Gray downfield," said O’Shea. "I know everybody sees Jermarcus running like crazy, but in a game you will also see Geoff Gray downfield, always finishing his blocks which is excellent to see."

Gray is ready to step up wherever needed with the season right around the corner.

"Whatever my role is I’m gonna give it my all when I’m on the field," said Gray. "Ideally you want to be on the field so I’m just gonna give it my all in the pre-season and we’ll see what happens from there."

gavin.axelrod@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: Gavin77axe