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Bucs hope Calijah Kancey can bring more ‘chaos’ to their pass rush

The first-round pick from Pitt hasn’t played since aggravating a calf injury 11 snaps into the season opener but could return Sunday against the Lions.
 
The thought of first-round draft pick Calijah Kancey being healthy enough to play against the Detroit Lions on Sunday has put a smile on the faces of his coaches and teammates.
The thought of first-round draft pick Calijah Kancey being healthy enough to play against the Detroit Lions on Sunday has put a smile on the faces of his coaches and teammates. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Oct. 12, 2023|Updated Oct. 12, 2023

TAMPA — As a rule, pass rushers are a jumpy lot. They’ve been known to get started a little early. But you can’t blame Joe Tryon-Shoyinka for the anticipation he feels about the likelihood of rookie defensive tackle Calijah Kancey returning to the Bucs’ defensive line Sunday.

“There will be a lot chaos out there,” Tryon-Shoyinka said. “It will be a lot of fun, I’ll tell you that. (Kancey is) just a special dude, a complete opposite of some of the other dudes we have. He has completely-game-wrecking, get-off-the-ball-type ability. He’s going to go against guards, and he’ll have a field day.

“It’s really exciting to see what he’s done throughout the short time he’s been here. We’re going to be hunting.”

Kancey’s season has been limited to 11 mostly spectacular snaps in the season-opening 20-17 win at Minnesota. He left the game after aggravating the calf injury he sustained on the second day of training camp, an injury that effectively ended his preseason.

But in that short window, the Vikings felt Kancey, as he produced a quarterback knockdown and a pressure. It was a snapshot of what the Bucs hoped they were getting with their first-round pick from Pittsburgh.

For the first time since the opener, Kancey has had full participation in practice this week. Barring a setback, he is expected to play Sunday against the Lions.

“Just going through the recovery process,” Kancey said. “It felt good to be out there with the team (Thursday). But I’m just still evaluating the injury right now. I actually feel good.

“We’ll see. The calf is kind of a tricky injury, a soft-tissue injury. You never know. I’m anxious. I had seen what I was able to do on the field when I got out there, and I want that feeling again. I want to go back out there and make plays.”

A calf injury sustained the second day of training camp has limited Calijah Kancey to 11 regular-season snaps.
A calf injury sustained the second day of training camp has limited Calijah Kancey to 11 regular-season snaps. [ JEFFEREE WOO | Times ]

As disruptive as nose tackle Vita Vea has been — he leads the Bucs with 3½ sacks despite constant double teams — he could create even more havoc with Kancey beside him, especially on passing downs.

At 6 feet 1 and 281 pounds, Kancey is a much smaller, much quicker interior lineman than the Bucs and coach Todd Bowles have been used to deploying next to Vea.

Ndamukong Suh (6-4, 313) helped the Bucs win a Super Bowl. Veteran Akiem Hicks (6-5, 324) replaced Suh for two seasons as another behemoth body to plug the middle of the defense.

But those players were well into their 30s and could not practice every day. Furthermore, teams took advantage of their age and size, and tired them out by making them run to the perimeter.

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With Kancey sidelined, the Bucs have leaned on veteran Mike Greene to fill his role. But Greene has produced only three tackles in four games.

“(Kancey) gives us another option as a pass rusher inside,” Bowles said. “We didn’t have viable options before. We had, I think, Logan (Hall) was getting a lot better, and we really like what he’s doing. With (Kancey’s) quickness and savvy as a pass rusher, that should help us.”

Calijah Kancey had 14½ sacks and 27½ tackles for loss over his final two seasons at Pitt. The Bucs believe he can be even better as a pro.
Calijah Kancey had 14½ sacks and 27½ tackles for loss over his final two seasons at Pitt. The Bucs believe he can be even better as a pro. [ JEFFEREE WOO | Times ]

The calf injury has taken a toll on Kancey’s patience. A lot was expected from the All-America defensive tackle who drew comparisons to Rams All-Pro Aaron Donald because of his physical stature, quick first step and alma mater.

“It was tough at first. But I had to just accept the role of embracing the suck,” Kancey said. “I know there’s guys who have had this game taken away from them, and I’m still able to recover and get back out there. I still have a chance.”

Co-defensive coordinator Larry Foote smiled at the prospect of having Kancey in the lineup against an explosive Lions offense.

“We don’t know yet. We’re hoping,” Foote said. “That’s why we drafted him. He has a skill set everybody knows about. We just can’t wait for him to get out there and play. Hopefully, he can recover from the injury and play good ball for us. But we know the skill set he possesses, and that’s why we drafted him.”

Kancey had 14½ sacks and 27½ tackles for loss over his final two seasons at Pitt. The Bucs believe he can be even better as a pro.

“It’s been great, man, watching those guys fly around and make plays and me knowing what I can do,” Kancey said. “It will be a boost.

“I’m definitely going to bring the extra juice to the table with the guys we have already flying around and making plays. I’ll help out the team a lot.”

Contact Rick Stroud at rstroud@tampabay.com. Follow @NFLSTROUD.

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