Not So Fast, Mr. Winfield

June 3rd, 2024


It’s almost impossible to lead from behind.

Lavonte David remains amazingly productive, but he’s 34 and the clock is winding down on his accomplished career. When David retires, the Bucs will need a new face for their defense and the clubhouse leader by a nose is Antoine Winfield Jr.

Winfield has the goods and the contract to justify that status, but most defensive leaders patrol the front seven, not the secondary.

When Tampa Bay’s defense ruled the day from 1997-2002, Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks set the tone. Each was named NFL Defensive Player of the Year during that span, relegating Rondé Barber and John Lynch to the shadows — despite their Hall of Fame play in the defensive backfield.

Todd Bowles talks about his prized rookie.

At this point, Winfield Jr. seems to be the clear-cut favorite to succeed David as the big cheese in Tampa Bay’s defense. He turns in big plays every week and his love for the game is apparent. The Bucs didn’t think twice about signing him to a long-term extension that made Winfield the highest-paid defensive back in league history.

Still, he plays safety.

The last line of defense is rarely the first name you think of when describing impact players on that side of the ball. That’s why you shouldn’t overlook Calijah Demetrius Kancey.

Jason Licht’s first pick in the 2023 draft is only 23 and a calf injury stalled his progress as a rookie, but Kancey showed enough to excite Buc Nation.

In his first full NFL game, Kancey registered six QB pressures and a sack against Detroit. In his first career playoff game, Kancey posted four tackles, a half-sack and made a key contribution on a safety. He got Jared Goff on the ground the following week in Motown, with Buc fans chanting in unison: I second that emotion.

He finished his first pro season with four sacks. His 10 tackles for loss ranked third on the team behind David and fellow rookie YaYa Diaby. Kancey led the Bucs with 12 QB hits, three more than any teammate, despite playing only 62 percent of the snaps.

Some pro scouts dinged Kancey before the draft because he’s undersized and his arms aren’t as long as most defensive linemen. The long and the short of it is Kancey gets off the ball quickly and has the tools and savvy to blow up plays in the backfield.

Second-year defensive tackle Calijah Kancey.

“He looks different, but he plays the position the same way,” Todd Bowles said after Kancey became the 19th overall pick. “He’s very strong, he’s very stout and he has a very good head on his shoulders. He understands the game.”

Kancey needs to understand that he has a unique opportunity to emerge as the first guy offensive coordinators dwell on before facing the Bucs. Vita Vea is 29 and Chris Braswell has yet to make his first NFL tackle. Will Gholston will be 33 next month and Logan Hall is still looking for his niche up front.

Bowles has high expectations for Kancey, knowing how disruptive he can be when healthy. He’ll open the season trying to chase down rookie quarterback Jayden Daniels when the Commanders roll into Raymond James Stadium on Sept. 8. Kancey startled scouts and GMs by turning in a 4.67 time at the 2023 Combine, but he’s not faster than Daniels, the Heisman Trophy winner who ran for 1,134 yards and an 8.4 yards per carry average at LSU last fall.

Kancey and Winfield aren’t going anywhere. Together, they figure to spearhead Tampa Bay’s defense throughout the rest of the decade. But Kancey plays up front — and that makes a difference.

Years ago, I asked Bill Belichick about Sapp’s Hall of Fame chances.

“The combination of Sapp and Derrick Brooks is the closest I’ve seen to Joe Greene and Jack Ham,” Belichick said, referring to two legendary Hall of Fame Steelers. “But Sapp played closer to the ball … and if you didn’t take care of him, none of the rest matters.”

Words to live by for Mr. Kancey.

Reach out to Bill Currie GM Sean Sullivan and demand the Ira Kaufman discount, or just shoot him any question you’d like. Sean is your confidant in the car business at Tampa’s premier dealership.

19 Responses to “Not So Fast, Mr. Winfield”

  1. ATLBuc Says:

    If defense dominates and we get a great run game, we can go undefeated!!

  2. White Tiger Says:

    Good article Ira!

  3. J Says:

    As far as I can tell from the pictures floating around, Kancey looks like freaking Kong this year. I’m expecting big things from him, especially if he can stay healthy all camp and preseason.

  4. SlyPirate Says:

    We’re all fired up about CK this year. Vea, CK, Yaya, and Braswell could be something.

    I still believe the Bucs are Super Bowl bound if they traded for Khalil Mack.

  5. D-Mac Says:

    I bet Kancey turns a lot of heads this year and emerges as our best player of the front seven. 8+ sacks, but will still get snubbed from a pro bowl bid.

  6. Bosch Says:

    It is true that front seven Sapp and Brooks were defensive leaders during the 97 – 02 era. But so were DBs Lynch and Barber.

  7. BucsBeBack Says:

    “Logan Hall is still looking for his niche up front.”…that’s putting it politely.

    I only hope that Bowles has the courage to place the “C” on the chest of a productive player with leadership abilities. The last guy Bowles gave the “C” to was chosen because that player was drafted high, was high-minded and talked like he was high.

    Winfield is an intelligent All-Pro who has proven himself, in a couple of short years. He would be an excellent captain once LD retires, despite his position. For anyone else to be considered, that player would have to skyrocket into our consciousness with superb play.

  8. 74 Bucs Fan Says:

    Thanks Sage. I didn’t know CK had stats that good. The Billichick quote was cool.

  9. lambchop Says:

    Good article. But, Winfield does a lot in the box and off the nickel blitz. As long as he swings games by 7 points regularly, we can definitely let him be the face of the defense. He has that elite pedigree as well. The guy has a great football IQ. And the crazy part is, he’s still ascending. He’s going to be fun to watch over the years, along with Kancey.

  10. Defense Rules Says:

    Have a feeling that the Bucs will draft their next Sapp after this year as a replacement for Vea, and their next ILB to replace LVD the year after that (yup, LVD will give us 2 more years & that’ll guarantee him HOF entry).

  11. stpetebucfan Says:

    “Still, he plays safety.”

    What position did Troy Polamalu play? How about Ed Reed?

    Winfield plays wherever he’s needed on any given play in the back seven although we wouldn’t be shocked to see him blitz. Hopefully Kancey and YaYa are so good they won’t need to blitz any of the DB’s.

    I’m with Joe on the power of a D that can get to the QB with just their front four.
    Imagine the havoc that could wreak on any offense.

    They still have to do it on the field but at least the Bucs have promise. It’s a great off season for #teampositive

  12. BillyBucco Says:

    Look up the Video, “How Calijah Kancey Single-Handily WRECKED the Eagles”.
    It’s highlights and analysis of the playoff game. His lateral quickness was TOO MUCH for both Kelce and Dickerson, who are both Too 5, Top 10 Interior O Lineman.
    Jayden Daniels is fast, but only when he is running full speed. Kancey gets there in a hurry. Watch how he bull rushes Dickerson too on the safety. Dude has the full package of rush moves.

  13. drdneast Says:

    I believe Hall of Famer Warren Sapp played 16 games as a rookie and came away with three sacks. Kancey played maybe twelve and registered four. If Kancy can just double that figure this season he will be making a huge impact on the Bucs defense.

  14. ^^mtn^^ Says:

    “Defense Rules Says:
    Have a feeling that the Bucs will draft their next Sapp after this year”

    They did that last draft and his initials are CK

  15. Dude Says:

    “Have a feeling that the Bucs will draft their next Sapp after this year as a replacement for Vea, and their next ILB to replace LVD the year after that (yup, LVD will give us 2 more years & that’ll guarantee him HOF entry).”

    Word on the street is, Vita lost his belly and is closer to 300lbs than he is to 350lbs(guestimation), but he’s been working with Suh this offseason. So another DT being drafted might not be necessary with Hall & Calijah in the picture along with Skinny Vita

  16. garro Says:

    Still, he plays safety.

    No knock on AWJ but you are correct Ira! Kancey, and I will add the possibility of Diaby. If both show out it will be awesome!

    Troy Polamalu is the last guy that I remember taking over a game at Safety on a regular basis. But he was allowed to freelance all over the field alot.

    Go Bucs!

  17. bob in valrico Says:

    As I recall AWJ is pretty good at leading from behind. We were behind the eight ball all too often. The game saving plays he made are as memorable as Ronde’s INT against the Mc Nabb and the Eagles.

  18. Ed Says:

    I think Kancey is physically stronger than Sapp. Warren’s football IQ was very high. He knew how to gain the edge mentally and his agility at his position was unquestionably one of the reasons why he won so many battles off the ball.

    Kancey is more of the freakish athlete. He is very fast and very strong, a little undersized but more than anything he has the ability to create havoc inside by
    beating blocks.

    Can’t wait to see him mature and become one of the top Buc defensive players.

    Bucs draft appears to be a little more solid on the offense as Barton, McMillan and Irving will get a lot of playing time.

    Braswell should be a starter. JTS hasn’t developed into an NFL starter and should just be a situational rotation player. He doesn’t deserve any more starts because he was a high draft pick.

  19. Hodad Says:

    Nice to have leaders in all levels of the defense.