Friday, July 3, 2009

Riders open CFL season against Lions tonight


REGINA - Ricky Foley has some big shoes to fill this season.

The fourth-year veteran will start at defensive end Friday when the B.C. Lions travel to Mosaic Stadium to face the Saskatchewan Roughriders (9 p.m. EDT on in the CFL season opener for both clubs.

But the former York Lions star has the unenviable task of replacing Cameron Wake, the league's top defensive player the last two years who recorded a combined 39 sacks before signing in the off-season with the NFL's Miami Dolphins.

"I don't want to necessarily say that we want Ricky to replace Cam Wake," said Wally Buono, the Lions head coach and GM. "I think we want Ricky to play the position the way it's supposed to be played at the level of excellence that it's going to be.

"Cam Wake was a unique athlete. I think to compare, I don't think is fair to Cam or to anybody that plays the position. Ricky has done a fine job but he's going to be given an opportunity that he's worked awfully hard for and obviously we're going to get (rookie) Gary Butler in there too, and I think between the two of them they will be productive."

Wake had a whopping 23 sacks to anchor a Lions' pass rush that recorded a CFL-high 68 last season. But he was far from being a one-man show as defensive tackle Aaron Hunt was second in the CFL with 11 sacks, one more than defensive end Brent Johnson, who was the CFL's top Canadian in 2005-'06 as well as its best defensive player in 2006.

Both Johnson and Hunt return to the Lions this season.

The six-foot-two, 245-pound Foley, a native of Courtice, Ont., was the Lions first-round selection, fourth overall, in the 2006 CFL Canadian college draft. He has registered 21 defensive tackles and eight sacks, along with 45 tackles on special teams, during his three seasons with B.C.

Foley said being consistent will be his top priority this season.

"I never got that much playing time during the pre-season games so I'm looking forward to getting a full game in on Friday," Foley said. "Just be consistent and don't let anything overwhelm you.

"If you have a not so good play, just let it go and get ready for the next snap."

Foley scored his first career CFL touchdown Aug. 8, 2008 in a game against Edmonton, recovering a blocked punt and rumbling 30 yards for the score.

Foley did crack B.C.'s defensive rotation in 2007, recording 12 tackles and four sacks.

Not having to deal with Wake will certainly be a load off the Roughriders' offensive line, which will be minus veteran guard Gene Makowsky (knee). Third-year player Chris Best, a six-foot-five, 301-pound lineman Saskatchewan selected in the first round (fourth overall) in the '05 Canadian college draft, will replace the 36-year-old Makowsky.

"He (Best) has been in our system here for a couple of years and has shown us flashes that he can get the job done," said Riders sophomore head coach Ken Miller. "I think it (having been in Riders' system) means a lot to him.

"To have familiarity with our plays just makes it a little bit more comfortable."

Miller downplayed the significance of Wake's absence, saying he's more interested in preparing for the four players who will make up the Lions' defensive front.

"Actually, I haven't thought about that too much because the people they have are plenty good," Miller said. "It's not who we play, it's how we play.

"That's how we go into it. We won't have two guys paying attention to him but we really didn't do that all the time when he was there, either. His replacement is a quality player."

The Riders will also be without tailback Wes Cates (shoulder) and fullback Neal Hughes (right leg). Still, Miller is thankful that his team will play its season opener at home before a rabid Mosaic Stadium gathering.

"Absolutely," Miller said. "Our fans are the greatest and playing here is an awesome opportunity. It's a great way to start the season."

The contest will also feature two players facing their former team.

Linebacker Anton McKenzie signed as a free agent with B.C. this off-season after spending the first three years of his CFL career with Saskatchewan. And slotback Jason Clermont will make his Roughriders debut after being released following the '08 campaign by the Lions after seven seasons there.

McKenzie said he's looking forward to returning to Regina.

"It's going to be great to go back there and play against my old teammates, old coaches and the fans and the city," he said. "It's going to be a great time."

Tonight's game can be heard at with Rod Pedersen and Carm Carteri calling the plays. Kickoff is set for 9:00p.m. EDT.

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