TAMPA ― Calijah Kancey on Thursday became the Bucs’ first interior defensive lineman to be named NFL Defensive Rookie of the Month.
“I definitely was surprised,” Kancey said. “I kind of found out right after practice. It’s not something I was looking forward to. I didn’t put it on my goals or anything like that. I just went out and played football, and it came to me.”
For a franchise that drafted Warren Sapp, Booger McFarland and Gerald McCoy, that’s saying something.
“Oh, yeah, that’s definitely crazy. I didn’t know that,” Kancey said. “I’m definitely blessed. I want to thank my teammates.”
Kancey, 22, had 14 quarterback pressures, four quarterback hits and two sacks in November. He also had seven tackles for loss, tying fellow rookie YaYa Diaby in that category.
“I think it just makes it harder for the opposing offense,” Kancey said of playing with Diaby. “Because they know they’ve got two guys they’ve got to deal with. I just think it makes it harder for them.”
Kancey said playing alongside veteran Vita Vea has been a huge part of his success.
“A guy like Vita, who’s pretty much played against everyone in this league, when we are out there on the field, he sees different formations and stuff like that and he alerts me and helped me out plenty of ways,” Kancey said.
Kancey had 10 tackles overall, as well as a pass defensed. The first-round pick from Pittsburgh missed most of the first month of the season after aggravating a calf injury in the opener at Minnesota.
But the Bucs had a good feeling about Kancey rising to this level early on.
“The encouraging thing, when you watch him, is that he’s a pro,” co-defensive coordinator Larry Foote said. “He likes football. And when you evaluate these guys, you get a lot of input. But when you finally see when you get him on campus and you see that he loves ball, you’re just kind of like ‘Good, now we just got to coach him up.’”
Kancey is the fifth Bucs player to win a Rookie of the Month honor, joining safety Antoine Winfield Jr., linebackers Lavonte David and Devin White, and defensive end Noah Spence.
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