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Bucs rookies Calijah Kancey, SirVocea Dennis still beloved at Pitt

Coach Pat Narduzzi called the rookies two of the smartest defensive players he has had at Pitt.
 
Bucs rookie Calijah Kancey is one of the smartest players Pitt coaches and teammates have ever been around.
Bucs rookie Calijah Kancey is one of the smartest players Pitt coaches and teammates have ever been around. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published July 27, 2023|Updated July 27, 2023

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — As Bucs rookies Calijah Kancey and SirVocea Dennis go through their first NFL training camp, their college coach expects them to have no problem understanding the schemes and plays at the next level.

“If I had to pick the smartest guy in the last eight years at Pitt on defense, on the defensive line and linebacker, those are the two guys,” Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi said during the ACC’s football media days at The Westin Charlotte. “That’s what you got. In intelligence, those guys are going to know before the ball’s snapped kind of what the offense likes to do in that situation.”

Bucs general manager Jason Licht cited Kancey’s intelligence as one reason why Tampa Bay took the All-America defensive lineman in the first round (No. 19 overall). His physical talent was obvious, too. Though undersized at 6-feet-1, 281 pounds, Kancey is strong and explosive. His 14½ tackles for a loss last year were the most among all interior linemen.

Pitt offensive tackle Matt Goncalves — one of the ACC’s top returning linemen — said there were times in practice when he tried to double-team Kancey but already found him three steps into the backfield.

More importantly, Goncalves said, was the passion Kancey showed.

“He’s one of the most respected players I’ve ever played with, for sure,” Goncalves said.

Defensive back M.J. Devonshire can explain why. Though Devonshire was much faster than Kancey — as he should be, given his position and 190-pound frame — Kancey lined up next to him and the other defensive backs to race them in every sprint.

Pitt players and coaches continue to rave about Calijah Kancey, who starred for the Panthers before becoming the Bucs' first-round pick.
Pitt players and coaches continue to rave about Calijah Kancey, who starred for the Panthers before becoming the Bucs' first-round pick. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

“He knew he had to do things that other people couldn’t because of what they thought he lacked,” Devonshire said, “so he just worked 10 times harder to prove that he was better than what they thought.”

Dennis wasn’t a superstar recruit, either — he was a two-star recruit and the nation’s No. 3,111 prospect — but blossomed into an all-ACC linebacker and fifth-round pick (No. 153 overall) thanks to his blend of intelligence and athleticism. Devonshire raves about Dennis’ recall and ability to break down an offense in real time.

SirVocea Dennis is one of the smartest linebackers Pat Narduzzi has had at Pitt.
SirVocea Dennis is one of the smartest linebackers Pat Narduzzi has had at Pitt. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

That showed up in one of the craziest plays Devonshire has ever seen, against Clemson in 2021. Dennis split a pair of offensive linemen to get in the backfield, then intercepted a shovel pass for a 50-yard touchdown in the Panthers’ 10-point win.

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“His IQ on and off the field is crazy, so that right there alone separates him,” Devonshire said. “Then just on the field, he wants it. It’s a different mentality. He believes nobody’s better than him, and so much to the point where I believe that I don’t think there’s a linebacker better than him. I don’t care how long they’ve been in the league. I don’t care if they’re a rookie, 10-year vet. He’s one of the better guys. He plays like it.”

Dino Babers on Sean Tucker

Bucs rookie Sean Tucker didn't say much at Syracuse but spoke loudly with his play.
Bucs rookie Sean Tucker didn't say much at Syracuse but spoke loudly with his play. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

Syracuse coach Dino Babers didn’t have to wait long to be reminded of another Bucs rookie, running back Sean Tucker; his second question was about replacing the only back-to-back 1,000-yard rusher in school history.

“Although he is quiet, he is a very loud worker,” Babers said. “He won’t say much, so don’t listen to that part. You wouldn’t hear it anyway, but just watch with your eyes because he is a very, very diligent, very hard worker, and I have not seen him not be able to accomplish something that he set his mind to.”

Tucker was undrafted and had been sidelined with a heart issue until getting cleared to participate in camp.

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