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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Calijah Kancey a 'Disruptive' Force in First Full NFL Game

Rookie DL Calijah Kancey returned from a calf injury in Week Six and made an instant impact, recording six quarterback pressures and his first NFL sack

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The Tampa Bay Buccaneers lost a battle of first-place teams on Sunday, falling 20-6 to the Detroit Lions in a game in which their offense failed to ignite. Tampa Bay's defense did hold the high-powered Lions offense to nearly 10 points below its 2023 per-game average, but difficulties getting off the field on third down allowed Detroit to take over the game in the second half. The Lions converted on nine of 16 third-down tries, including six of nine in the second half, and scored both of their touchdowns on long third-down completions.

The Buccaneers' defense currently ranks 31st in third-down success rate allowed, at 49.3%, and that is clearly an issue the team needs to resolve in order to continue winning games. Fortunately, they may have just added an element to their defense that can help significantly in that regard: rookie defensive lineman Calijah Kancey.

Kancey returned to action in Week Six following the aggravation of a preseason calf injury in Week One and made a very good impression on Head Coach Todd Bowles.

"He's disruptive," said Bowles. "He fills out the stat sheet. [There are] some things he has to work on, some rust he has to work off, but we like where he's at. He's very disruptive."

The data backs up Bowles' description of Kancey. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Kancey rushed the passer on 28 of the 40 overall snaps he played in Sunday's game and put pressure on Goff on six of them. That ties for the most QB pressures by a rookie in a single game over the past five seasons. He acknowledged after the game that his calf injury has him behind where he would like to be, but that only suggests that he can make an even more of a pass-rush force moving forward.

"It was great – still knocking off the rust," said the former University of Pittsburgh star. "It's kind of preseason for me, rather than the other guys that [have] been out there going and flying around."

The Buccaneers selected Kancey with the 19th overall pick in the 2023 draft and quickly made it clear he was going to be an important fixture in the defense from Day One. He impressed early in training camp with his explosive movements but saw his progress slowed by the calf injury in early August. He didn't practice again until Week One of the regular season but was cleared to play in the opening game at Minnesota.

Kancey made an immediate impact in that game, delivering a hit on Kirk Cousins that forced an errant throw on third down, leading to a punt. Unfortunately, he aggravated the calf injury in the first half and was sidelined after playing just 11 defensive snaps, nine of which involved him rushing the passer. Still, with the combined results of that game and his efforts on Sunday, Kancey has showed significant early promise that he could develop into one of the league's most impactful interior rushers. His pressure percentage so far is 18.9%, second only to Philadelphia's Jalen Carter (19.5%) among all NFL interior linemen with at least 30 pass-rush snaps so far.

The Buccaneers envision Kancey being a quick-twitch penetrator to complement the powerful game of fellow interior lineman Vita Vea, who is the currently the team's leader with 3.5 sacks. Vea didn't add to that sack total against Detroit but did have six stops, a tackle for a loss and a forced fumble. After seeing Kancey make an obvious difference in his first full NFL game, the team certainly feels optimistic about what that duo can do going forward.

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