6’0″ 275 pounds; Hometown: Miami, Fla.
In case you haven’t noticed so far given the three linebackers on this list, the identity of Pitt that we described on our opening page is its ability to rush the passer. That’s what Pat Narduzzi relies on, and it’s what Tennessee football has to be ready for.
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Although linebackers are the stars in that system, a defensive lineman is always the catalyst for it. This year, that defensive lineman is Calijah Kancey. A hybrid who can line up in the middle or on the edge, Kancey gets the push necessary to free up the other linebackers, but he also makes plays himself when Narduzzi puts him in the right situation.
Simply put, Kancey is the heart and soul of the pass rush, and that means he’s the most important player on this team. Already, Kancey is continuing his dominant play from last year, as he had a sack and five tackles, four of which were solo, against UMASS.
Kancey had seven tackles for a loss, two pass breakups, one and a half sacks and 27 total tackles, 12 of which were solo, as a true freshman in 2020. This is his breakout season, and he showed early on he’s prepared to do that. There’s a reason he also made the Pro Football Focus All-ACC first team at defensive line.
Is Kancey the next Aaron Donald? It’s not likely, but he did grade in the top 10 in both run defense and pass rush grades last year. He’ll be a huge test for Tennessee football’s offensive line, particularly the interior, and that’s where Cooper Mays’ health at center is a big deal.