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Veteran defensive end Ricky Foley anxious to return to Toronto Argonauts

01/26/2015 02:37 EST | Updated 03/28/2015 05:59 EDT
TORONTO - Ricky Foley's shock and dismay have been replaced by the excitement of returning home.

The veteran defensive end spoke Monday for the first time since the Saskatchewan Roughriders dealt him to the Toronto Argonauts for Canadian linebacker Shea Emry on Saturday. The move was a surprise considering Foley re-signed with the club in December rather than test free agency after tying his career high with 12 sacks in 2014.

"It came out of left field . . . that's why I waited to really address anybody media-wise," Foley said from Vancouver during a conference call. "It was the right decision to go to Saskatchewan, it was the right decision to sign there this off-season.

"It (the trade) was tough but now I'm starting to get the goose bumps, emotions and excitement of going about going back home to Toronto and play with the Argos again."

But not after issuing a thoughtful, heart-felt farewell to Rider Nation on his Twitter account.

"They embraced me especially," Foley said of the Riders' rabid fans. "It's hard to say I only had two years there, it kind of feels like I spent my whole career there and I'm leaving after 10 years.

"It's special out there and I'm looking at it as a blessing. I was really appreciative, I said it in the letter and meant it."

The six-foot-two, 258-pound Foley first joined the Argos as a free agent in 2010 after starting his CFL career in '06 with the B.C. Lions. It was a homecoming for Foley, a native of Courtice, Ont. — roughly 60 kilometres east of Toronto — who played college football at York University.

Foley, 32, spent three seasons with the Argos, finishing his first go-around with a bang. He was named the top Canadian in Toronto's 34-22 victory over Calgary in the 100th Grey Cup game at Rogers Centre in November 2012.

But there were times of frustration, too, struggling to adjust to former defensive co-ordinator Chris Jones's schemes. A tenacious pass-rusher, Foley was often required to drop back into pass coverage like a linebacker.

Foley, the CFL's top Canadian in '09 after posting 12 sacks with B.C., became a free agent shortly afterwards and instead of remaining in Toronto he signed with Saskatchewan. After recording eight sacks in the Riders' Grey Cup-winning '13 campaign, Foley was a key cog in a unit that tracked down rival quarterbacks a league-leading 61 times last year.

But with end John Chick (CFL-high 15 sacks) and tackle Tearrius George (12 sacks) — who also re-signed with the club this off-season —in the mix, GM Brendan Taman used his position of strength to shore up Saskatchewan's linebacking corps with Emry, an eight-year veteran and two-time Grey Cup champion.

The six-foot-one, 228-pound Emry had a team-high 72 tackles in his first season with Toronto. Sophomore American Brian Peters — a pending free agent — led Saskatchewan with 77 tackles but Emry, 28, of Richmond, B.C., allows the Riders to play an International starter elsewhere.

The arrival last season of Cory Greenwood of Kingston, Ont., and presence of James Yurichuk of Brampton, Ont., and Winnipeg's Thomas Miles allowed Toronto GM Jim Barker to deal Emry and upgrade a pass rush that had 46 sacks last year

"Shea came in and did a great job for us," Barker said. "We were looking at playing two Canadian inside linebackers potentially and this presented itself.

"It's never easy to trade a popular player and a guy our coaching staff and myself really like but sometimes you have to put that stuff aside."

Foley gives Toronto another dominant pass rusher to complement Tristan Okpalaugo (team-high 12 sacks as a rookie). That's a need considering defensive back Jalil Carter — now with the NFL's Minnesota Vikings — was second on the unit with five sacks.

"Ricky fits what (defensive co-ordinator) Tim Burke wants to do," Barker said. "He's a straight-edge pass rusher who plays with high energy and is a total Toronto guy.

"Tristan had a great first year and hopefully the addition of Ricky will help him. Ricky has been on (three) championship teams . . . and having as many of those guys who know how to win on your club certainly helps."

Barker wasn't surprised by Foley's return.

"When he left I actually told him at one point, 'There's going to come a day when you come back to us,'" Barker said. "He's a pro and we're excited to have him back."

Foley was impressed with what he saw last year from Okpalaugo.

"He put up good numbers as far as sacks go but you could see him getting better as an all-around defensive end," Foley said. "That's something I take pride in.

"The glory stat is sacks but every year I try to make sure I lead the league in tackles by a defensive lineman because I think that's an effort thing that shows an all-round game."

NOTES: The Argos named Jonathan Himebauch their offensive line coach and assistant head coach. He spent last year as Edmonton's offensive line coach and has previous coaching experience with Montreal and Calgary.

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