TAMPA — There is a sense of urgency and discipline to everything SirVocea Dennis does on a football field.
“People who have that sense ... they live, I want to say, a better life,” the new Bucs linebacker said before heading out to a recent rookie practice. “They live a more comfortable life. And that’s what I like to be on the field. I like to be comfortable, because as soon as you get uncomfortable, you get antsy, you get out of place, out of whack. So I definitely try to stay comfortable and try to understand what’s going on. And I think that helps me with my game.”
The Bucs’ fifth-round pick out of Pittsburgh, who comes from a family of military veterans, arrived at the AdventHealth Training Center with the reputation as one of the most “cerebral” linebackers in this year’s draft. His intelligence, elite technique and passion for playing defense help him overcome his size (6 feet, 226 pounds).
“When a lot of people say you aren’t big enough, you aren’t strong enough or fast enough, I try to show you that it really doesn’t matter,” Dennis said. “It’s about the knowledge of the game, how to attack things and to execute plays.
“I take that very seriously and it has gotten me this far. So why not keep going?”
Dennis didn’t have a traditional road to the NFL.
A quarterback and defensive back at Christian Brothers Academy in Syracuse, he didn’t initially get the offer to Pitt he had been dreaming of since he was a little boy. Instead he had a chance to play at the Ivy League’s Dartmouth — if he did a year at prep school.
He converted to linebacker in that one season at the Peddie School in New Jersey, then committed to the Air Force Academy until a severe peanut allergy, which could have interfered with his military service, derailed him. He eventually secured his spot with Pitt when Panthers coaches came to the prep school to recruit his teammates.
He was named to the All-ACC first team in 2022 after leading Pitt with 94 tackles, 12 for loss, and seven sacks. He also had one interception, three pass breakups and two forced fumbles in 12 starts.
The Bucs clearly liked something they saw in the Pitt defense, as they also took Calijah Kancey with their first-round pick.
“We’ve been together four years of college. You know that bond we have is something special and something strong so I’m glad to take it to the next level,” Dennis said of Kancey.
Dennis, whose father is a Boca Ciega High School graduate from St. Petersburg, already has shown his intent to find his place on this team. Known more for his pass rushing in college, Dennis proved he can cover as well. He had one interception and a runback in 11-on-11 drills Friday.
The Bucs have two established inside linebackers with Devin White and Lavonte David, but both are free agents in 2024. White, of course, has already asked for a trade, which the team declined.
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So Dennis knows he has to find a way to make his mark now and build for the future. That may be on special teams, which he has no problem with. In fact, it was his plan for the last four years.
“My freshman year, I had a couple of coaches say to not just me, but like the guys ahead of me, ‘You’re not gonna make any NFL team unless you’re on special teams.’ And as soon as I heard that, I made sure I was on (special teams) all four (years) from freshman to senior,” Dennis said.
“You’ve got to make every opportunity you can. That’s the way to get on the field. And if you perform well there, they’ll definitely see you can perform well on defense.”
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