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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Calijah Kancey: 'Just Scratching the Surface' 

Rookie Calijah Kancey played a pivotal role in limiting the Titans’ rushing attack in Week 10


Hit-or-miss run defender due to lack of mass and strength.

Not gap-disciplined.

Will struggle to hold ground one-on-one against interior offensive linemen who have a stout anchor.

Moved backward in the ground game.

All of the aforementioned statements were made about Calijah Kancey during the 2023 pre-draft process. Due to his smaller frame (6-foot-1, 280 pounds) by NFL defensive tackle standards, questions were raised by national analysts regarding Kancey's ability to hold up in the run game. Fast-forward to Sunday, November 12. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers hosted the Tennessee Titans in Week 10. Kancey, who the Bucs' drafted 19th overall in April, became a defensive catalyst against the Titans' downhill rushing attack.

Much like he did for the Pittsburgh Panthers, Kancey lit up the field he inhabited. He consistently invaded the backfield, manipulating his body into position to make tackles behind the line of scrimmage. With a low pad level and elite balance, Kancey won the leverage battle. He finished the Week 10 matchup with three combined tackles, two tackles for loss and two quarterback hits. He became the first rookie with multiple tackles for loss in consecutive games since Micah Parsons and Jaelen Phillips accomplished the feat in 2021. Kancey posted his fifth and sixth tackles for loss of the season surpassing Philadelphia's Jalen Carter for the second-most tackles for loss among rookies this season.

"It is a leverage game," said Kancey. "Whether you are 400 pounds or 280 pounds, if you are high, then you are going to get moved off the ball. If you are low, then you have a better chance of making a play. The lower man wins in this game. For interior linemen, you have to have leverage and with me being an undersized defensive lineman, technique comes along with that. I had good leverage and technique on my tackle-for-loss plays, and it all worked out."

Derrick Henry, the Titans' freight train, routinely punishes runners at the second and third level with rare power behind his pads and forward lean. When he gets a head of steam, Henry is nearly impossible to bring down. Head Coach Todd Bowles stressed the need to force Tennessee out of their smash-mouth philosophy during the week of preparation.

"There were a bunch of them [tackles for loss]," described Bowles. "Just getting them out of their comfort zone, that was our number one job. We knew if they stayed downhill and got Henry rolling it was going to be a long day for us, so we penetrated, got across the ball and made some plays."

Kancey silenced the doubters against the Titans by turning a perceived weakness into his calling card against one of the best in the game – King Henry. Overall, the Bucs held the Titans to 42 total rushing yards, with Henry accounting for just 20 scrimmage yards, his lowest total in any game dating back to the 2017 season.

In the fourth quarter, Kancey dropped Henry for a loss of three on second down, which set up third-and-nine. The instinctive play helped set up a Nick Folk 27-yard field goal.  Earlier in the third quarter, Kancey stonewalled Tyjae Spears in the hole for a loss of two, which put the Titans in unfavorable down-and-distance. Kancey wreaked havoc up and down the line of scrimmage, disrupting the backfield like a man shot out of a cannon. He displayed remarkable balance, explosion, twitchy feet and high motor on Sunday, emboldening the Bucs' defensive unit with explosiveness. Kancey helped spearhead the charge and although he has accumulated a small sample size on the grass, he is already commanding double teams alongside Vita Vea, which frees up opportunities for Tampa Bay's edge rushers. The rookie phenom is just getting started.

"I think he is just scratching the surface because I think there is a lot more to him," stated Bowles.

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