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TEAM ALL-STAR: Bombers dominate CFL West nods

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The Winnipeg Blue Bombers won’t be able to use the “we were snubbed” approach in making a run for a second straight Grey Cup championship.

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The team that dominated the CFL during the regular season also dominates the divisional all-stars, released on Wednesday.

No less than 15 players – seven on defence, seven on offence and one on special teams – are West Division all-stars after an 11-3 season that saw the Bombers clinch first place two weeks before the last game.

That’s by far the most from one team, although it’s not quite a CFL record.

The Bombers had 17 in 1993, Montreal 17 in 2009. But those teams were in four-team divisions.

According to CFL statistician Steve Daniel, 15 is the most all-stars any team from a five-team division has ever hard.

Third-place Calgary had seven, fourth-place B.C. had three, while second-place Saskatchewan placed just two players on the team.

Last-place Edmonton, which cleaned house in its front office after a disastrous season, has no all-stars.

The stars on offence include quarterback Zach Collaros, receivers Kenny Lawler and Nic Demski as well as four members of the offensive line: tackles Stanley Bryant and Jermarcus Hardrick and guards Pat Neufeld and Drew Desjarlais.

Getting the nod from Winnipeg’s defence are ends Willie Jefferson and Jackson Jeffcoat, linebackers Adam Bighill and Alden Darby, safety Brandon Alexander, defensive back Deatrick Nichols and rookie corner DeAundre Alford.

Mike Miller was recognized for his work on special teams.

“Congratulations to the rest of my brothers!!” Demski tweeted shortly after the news broke.

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Darby was a little more animated after his first CFL all-star nod.

His tweet: “Wow wow ! God is Great !!!!!!! S/O to the rest of my brothers on the list. Work isn’t done tho !!!! Man I’m so grateful !! MAMA YOUR SON IS AN ALL STAR.”

In the East, Hamilton received recognition for 10 players, Toronto and Montreal seven all-stars, each. Last-place Ottawa had three.

The votes came from the football reporters and head coaches in each division.

The CFL all-star team will be announced in late December.

It’s the first all-star recognition for 10 Winnipeg players, and for a couple it’s hard to believe.

Collaros tops that list, as he had some stellar seasons in Hamilton earlier in his career but was overshadowed by Ricky Ray in Toronto and Henry Burris in Ottawa.

Neufeld is in his 10th CFL season and has been a solid blocker for years, but is getting his first all-star recognition.

The others honoured for the first time are Lawler, Demski and Desjarlais on offence, Jeffcoat, Darby, Alexander, Alford and Nichols on defence.

Alford tweeted, “The best is yet to come.”

For others this might be old hat.

Bighill is a West all-star for the seventh time in his career, Bryant for the sixth.

It’s four straight all-star nods for Jefferson, three straight for Miller, the tackling machine who’s rolled up more special-teams take-downs than anyone in league history.

For Hardrick it’s a second career all-star honour, his first coming four years ago.

There are no real surprises on the list.

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The Bombers scored the most points in the CFL, allowed the fewest, had the No. 2 offence in yardage, the No. 1-ranked defence, allowed the fewest quarterback sacks, led the league in turnover ratio and had the fewest penalties.

Their top-ranked pass defence came after losing 2019 all-stars Winston Rose and Marcus Sayles from their secondary.

Alford (team-high four interceptions, one for a touchdown, and 48 tackles) and Nichols (three interceptions, a sack, a forced fumble and 46 tackles) stepped right in and the defence got better, if anything.

Collaros ranked second in CFL passing yards (3,185) despite missing all but four series in the last two games.

The 33-year-old still led the league with 20 touchdown passes against just six interceptions, producing the top efficiency rating of 111.0. His 70.2% completion rate matched his career high from 2015.

Collaros’s favourite targets were Lawler, who led the CFL with 1,014 yards on 64 catches, six of them touchdowns, and Demski, who caught 48 for a career-best 654 yards and four majors.

Jeffcoat and Jefferson caused opposing quarterbacks to lose sleep, Jeffcoat rolling up nine sacks and forcing a league-high four fumbles, while Jefferson had seven sacks, three forced fumbles, two interceptions and a touchdown return.

Alexander’s breakout season produced 36 tackles, two interceptions and a forced fumble.

Bighill led Winnipeg with 70 tackles, adding two sacks, two fumble recoveries, one for a touchdown, and two forced fumbles.

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Miller led the CFL in special-teams tackles for a third straight year, with 25.

The individual accolades will no doubt continue on Thursday, with the divisional winners in the Most Outstanding Player Awards.

Collaros is Winnipeg’s nominee for Most Outstanding Player, Demski for top Canadian, Bryant for best O-lineman, Bighill for top defensive player, Alford for best rookie and Miller for special teams.

The Bombers don’t practice until Friday, as the prepare to host the West Final on Dec. 5 against the winner of this weekend’s Saskatchewan-Calgary semifinal.

The winner, particularly if it’s the Riders, will no doubt hit Winnipeg with a chip on their shoulder and something to prove.

A CUT ABOVE THE REST

CFL West Division All-Stars

OFFENCE
QB: Zach Collaros, WPG
RB: Ka’Deem Carey, CGY
REC: Kenny Lawler, WPG
REC: Lucky Whitehead, BC
REC: Bryan Burnham, BC
REC: Kamar Jorden, CGY
REC: Nic Demski, WPG
CEN: Sean McEwen, CGY
G: Drew Desjarlais, WPG
G: Patrick Neufeld, WPG
T: Stanley Bryant, WPG
T: Jermarcus Hardrick, WPG

DEFENCE
E: Jackson Jeffcoat, WPG
E: Willie Jefferson, WPG
T: Micah Johnson CGY
T: Mike Rose, CGY
LB: Adam Bighill, WPG
LB: Darnell Sankey, CGY
LB/DB: Alden Darby, WPG
CB: DeAundre Alford, WPG
CB: Nick Marshall, SSK
HB: T.J. Lee, BC
HB: Deatrick Nichols, WPG
S: Brandon Alexander, WPG

SPECIAL TEAMS
K: Rene Paredes, CGY
P: Cody Grace, CGY
ST: Mike Miller, WPG

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