Bucs rookie Calijah Kancey shines on defense’s resurgent day

TAMPA — In the span of the season’s first 10 weeks, Calijah Kancey has rapidly evolved from an injured player to integral cog, from mental reps to momentum-altering ones.

On Sunday, the No. 19 overall pick’s breakneck progression continued with two more tackles for loss in the Bucs’ 20-6 victory against the Titans.

“He’s got a motor,” linebacker Devin White said.

Kancey now has five such stops in the last two weeks, becoming the first rookie with multiple tackles for loss in consecutive games since Micah Parsons and Jaelan Phillips each did so in 2021.

“He’s getting comfortable with the system,” coach Todd Bowles said. “We understand where he is. He can do a lot of things for us, and we haven’t opened up his whole bag of tricks yet.”

The emergence may have arrived a month or so sooner had Kancey not suffered a calf injury at the outset of training camp. He aggravated it 11 snaps into the season opener at Minnesota and didn’t return until Week 6 against the Lions.

“I think it all comes together once you get the physical reps,” said Kancey, who now has six total tackles for loss in 2023. “Once you see something repetitive, it just starts to all click, and then you’ve just got to make that play when the time comes.”

Injury update

Quarterback Baker Mayfield, whose right thumb hit a Titans player’s helmet after a fourth-quarter throw, said immediately after the game the thumb “feels good.”

Still, the digit may be worth monitoring. The Bucs ran seven consecutive run plays (including a pop pass to Deven Thompkins) after Mayfield hurt the thumb before he overthrew Cade Otton in the end zone from roughly 20 yards with 7:05 to play.

It was Mayfield’s last official pass of the day.

Elsewhere, cornerback Carlton Davis (toe) was deemed inactive before the game, replaced in the lineup by Zyon McCollum (five tackles, one pass defended). Buoyed by fierce rush and pass blitzers, the secondary helped limit Tennessee to 199 passing yards.

All-pro receiver DeAndre Hopkins managed only 27 receiving yards (on three catches), his second-lowest total of the season.

“(Jamel) Dean and Zyon did a heck of a job playing man coverage and understanding the assignment of what they (had) to do,” Bowles said. “The way Hopkins has been playing this year has been incredible, so for them to not be able to get the ball over the top — like we had last week (versus the Texans) — was big.”

By the numbers

1 Opening-drive touchdowns scored this season by the Titans, who settled for a 38-yard field goal on Sunday’s initial drive

5 Consecutive games in which Lavonte David has recorded a tackle for loss, the team’s longest such streak since 2018 (Jason Pierre-Paul). David had two on Sunday.

5 Tackles for loss totaled by the Bucs in the opening quarter, matching the most by any team in a single quarter this season

154 Career tackles for loss by David, fourth-most among active NFL players

35 Career 100-yard receiving games (regular season) for Mike Evans, who had 143 yards (on six catches) Sunday

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