TAMPA — Calijah Kancey is a man with a plan. The Bucs’ top draft pick walked into AdventHealth Training Center this week with his own three-point plan to attack his first year in the NFL. Friday, as rookies hit the field for the first time, he was more than ready to put that plan in action.
“Right now, my focus is that I’ve got three things: I want to learn, engage and execute,” Kancey said before taking the field for rookie minicamp. “So, I want to learn everyone’s name, for one. I want to learn the playbook. I want to learn my way around Tampa, because I only know about Busch Gardens. I want to learn every coach’s name and everyone’s name around the building — custodians, chefs, everyone.”
“I want to engage,” Kancey continued. “I want to talk to people, get to know teammates, coaches, and everyone. And then I want to execute. I want to be able if that person needs me to do something, I go do it. I love when a coach gives me an assignment, to go make that play and I do it.”
Kancey, 22, a defensive tackle out of Pitt, also arrived with a lot of confidence. Considered undersized for the position by some, the No. 19 overall pick already has bulked up a bit from the 6-foot-1, 281 pounds he was listed at for the draft.
“I’m 284 (pounds) right now. I feel great at this weight,” he said. “And like I said before, it’s not about the size. It’s about the pad level and who will get the better leverage in this game, the defensive line or offensive line. The lower man wins. And great technique will take you very far.”
Kancey, a former standout at Miami Northwestern High, drew notice in predraft scouting reports for his natural abilities. He has quick first steps, explosion, and agility. He also has shown a mastery of several pass-rush moves and the ability to string them together.
Head coach Todd Bowles said Kancey’s ability to play the position and learn quickly is what attracted the Bucs to him. After just one day on the field, Bowles said he has seen what the team expected from their top pick.
“We just want him to play defensive tackle. I mean, that’s what we got him for,” Bowles said afterward. “He’s not a stunter. He’s not this guy or that guy. He can actually play football. He can play the position without stunting him. As we get to know him and get a feel for everything and what he’s good and not good at …. based on the pieces around him, we’ll try and use him accordingly.
“But right now, we’re just focusing on learning the position. We’re not in the game-planning or schematics right now. You have to get the basics down. And he’s doing that very well. He’s a very bright guy.”
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Kancey loves playing defensive tackle. He was a running back in youth football but grew out of the position after eating too many honey buns and Skittles, and moved to the defensive line.
“It was fun,” he said. “I just fell in love with getting after the offensive lineman and just making plays and being able to control the game by making a stop. So, I just fell in love with that.”
He’s worked hard to excel at it.
NFL Network and Fox analyst Brian Baldinger got a glimpse into that work ethic right after the draft when he bumped into Kancey on the beach in Fort Lauderdale.
Kancey wasn’t soaking up the sun or relaxing. He was working out in the sand. It’s something Kancey has done for years to help his movement and strength. This year, it’s also part of the plan to help him readjust to the heat of playing in Florida.
“That’s something that I like to do when we’re on the beach,” Kancey said. “Just kind of move around on the sand, because when I get on the turf it is much easier, much quicker. And it’s something that has helped my game.”
Just another part of the plan.
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