The Texans’ creative new approach on offense has included Cecil Shorts III in a Swiss-army knife role: receiver, runner and passer. The veteran receiver on living the dream of throwing a touchdown in the NFL, how Bill O’Brien turned things around in Houston, and the history of one of the coolest names in the NFL
The Houston Texans are as hot as any team in the NFL, rattling off four straight wins to position themselves in the thick of the playoffs race. And Cecil Shorts III, the Texans’ versatile offensive weapon, has heated up during that span, too, lining up at receiver, motioning across the backfield and taking snaps as the Wildcat quarterback. The trickery with Shorts has helped the Texans get their offense, and their season, back on track. The postseason is the goal, but Shorts also wouldn’t mind throwing a few more touchdown passes—coaches permitting, of course.
VRENTAS: What gives you the versatility to line up in so many spots on the field?
SHORTS: Well, I played quarterback my whole life, so I’m really familiar with being in the backfield and handling the ball. I was a quarterback up until my second year in college, and then I switched full-time to receiver. But even when I played receiver, they still used me in the Wildcat and behind the back-up quarterback all the time, in case emergency situations happened. Which did happen in college, and I went to quarterback and threw the ball around and ran the ball around. So I’m familiar with that type of stuff. I’m happy the coaches trust me enough to have me back there. They’re using me in a lot of ways. Any way I can help the team, and get the ball in my hands, I’m excited about.
VRENTAS: Being the Wildcat quarterback in the pros is a little different than college, though.
SHORTS: Yeah, it’s a bit different [laughs]. There are a lot better athletes, and a lot better schemes. It requires a lot of studying to understand what my reads are, and what to do. It does take more studying than normal. You have to take care of the ball and make smart decisions. As long as I make a smart decision, I’ll be alright.
VRENTAS: How did you find out the coaches were bringing the Wildcat back for the Jets game in Week 11?
SHORTS: The Wednesday before the game, coach [Bill] O’Brien came to me and asked, “Hey, can you throw?” I looked at him kind of funny because I threw a touchdown against him last year when I was in Jacksonville. So I’m thinking, I guess he didn’t remember. I told him, “Yeah, I can throw.” I played around with him a little bit and said, beside the quarterbacks, I probably got the best arm on the team. He’s like, alright, we’ll see after practice. After practice, I threw it around, and he was impressed. It kind of just went from there. We had a small Wildcat package, but we ran it and ran it effectively.
VRENTAS: Part of the reason you used it that week was that Brian Hoyer was sidelined with a concussion, and T.J. Yates was starting. But do you think you’re bringing the Wildcat back this season?
SHORTS: We’ll have to see. The main goal is when we do go to Wildcat is you want to be productive, you want to get positive yards. So far it’s been working for us to get positive yards. I couldn’t tell you if we’re going to do it the rest of the season, but I hope so.
VRENTAS: You also got the chance to throw another touchdown pass this year. Not out of the Wildcat, but on a cool trick play when Yates lateraled to you and you threw downfield to Alfred Blue. How much did you practice throwing the week leading up to the game?
SHORTS: That felt awesome. My dream my whole life was to throw a touchdown in the NFL. To have the opportunity to do it again was just awesome. That’s something I can tell my son one day—I threw a touchdown in the NFL.
VRENTAS: Did you think you had a future as a quarterback?
SHORTS: Well, I switched in college to receiver full-time my second year. I knew after I switched, my quarterback time was pretty much over. Playing receiver was my bets chance to make the NFL. Coming from a Division-III program, you don’t get a lot of opportunities to come out. We had just had a guy named Pierre Garçon drafted at receiver out of Mount Union, and then my coach decided to move me to receiver, so I knew that was my best shot to make something happen.
VRENTAS: You and Garçon are Mount Union’s two biggest stars. How did he help you pave your path to the NFL?
SHORTS: Oh man, I think everything happened because of him. He got drafted in the sixth round by the Colts, and his second year, he really started coming on with Peyton Manning. When he started coming on, eyes started turning back to Mount Union, and scouts started coming around the last two or three years I was there and started to pay attention to what I was doing because of what he was doing on the field. I credit all my success to him.
VRENTAS: Your team got off to a tough start this season. You were 2-5 at one point and now you’re in the thick of the playoff hunt. What’s the biggest difference between that team and the one that has won four straight?
SHORTS: Honestly, we are just playing complementary football. Early in the year, we had the offense playing well and the defense not playing well, or vice versa, and we just weren’t helping each other in all three phases of the game. Now, the offense is being effective, and we’re scoring when we need to score and taking care of the ball, and the defense is playing lights out. Coach Bill O’Brien deserves a lot of credit because he kept up together, because when you go 2-5 in a big market like Houston, things can go haywire. There were a lot of rumors and stuff going around. But he kept us together, and we all knew we were better than what we were playing. We were still a very confident team. After we lost to Miami pretty bad [in Week 7], Coach O’Brien came in there and told us, Let’s just stay focused on the task at hand. Stay away from media reports, all the excess stuff, let’s just focus on us. And we ended up winning four straight from there, so I think a lot of credit goes to him.
VRENTAS: What did it mean to go into Cincinnati on a Monday night and end the Bengals’ undefeated season?
SHORTS: That was a big boost. We had just come off a win in Tennessee, and we had a bye week, so we got a lot of people healthy that week. That was a big boost to our confidence, but we want to keep the momentum going. We have a tough one in Buffalo.
VRENTAS: The Houston Chronicle reported after the bye week that O’Brien gave a speech in which he admitted he’d made a mistake by benching Brian Hoyer after the first game of the season. How did the players respond to him saying that?
SHORTS: I gained tons more respect for him. He’s the decision-maker, and when he makes a decision, we all have to back him up. We were fully behind him no matter what decision he made, but for him to say he made a mistake, that normally doesn’t happen. A coach doesn’t normally say, I messed up this, or I messed up that. That was big. I think we all gained even more respect for him. We all hold him in high regard, but we gained a lot more respect for him for saying that. We all rally behind Coach. He’s a hard worker, and he demands a lot from us each and every day. He’s one of the main reasons we are on this four-game winning streak.
VRENTAS: How has Brian Hoyer stepped up during this winning streak?
SHORTS: He’s consistent. He’s the leader of the offense. He’s calm in all situations, and he’s taking care of the ball. When you do that, the offense is going to run well and you give us the best chance to win. He’s finding his playmakers, and he’s making the right reads. He’s doing a great job.
VRENTAS: You have experience playing in a lot of spots on the field, but the slot position was new to you when you came to Houston as a free agent this offseason. How have you worked on learning the nuances of that position?
SHORTS: I’m doing a lot of different stuff in the slot I hadn’t done over my previous years in Jacksonville. It’s still new to me, and I’m still learning. I definitely like it, and it’s a good fit, but it takes time. I watch a lot of film on Wes Welker, Julian Edelman. And my other peers who are my size, like Antonio Brown and Randall Cobb. There are a lot of good receivers to learn from in this league.
VRENTAS: You have one of the most interesting names in the NFL. What is the family history?
SHORTS: It was my grandfather’s name. I guess he didn’t like it… No, I’m just playing; he was cool about it. But he used to get teased a little bit in school. He was a professional boxer. Cecil Shorts, Sr., was a professional boxer, a welterweight. He named his first son Cecil. Cecil Shorts, Jr., is my dad. He was my high school coach in Cleveland. He named me, and now I’ve named my first son Cecil Shorts. So it spans four generations.
VRENTAS: Was Cecil Shorts, Sr., any good as a boxer?
SHORTS: He had about 30-some odd fights. He boxed for a good amount of time, but he did retire early when he started having kids. He didn’t have a bad boxing career. I want to say he was 27-10, or something like that. His name is real heavy in Cleveland. A lot of people knew my grandfather or grew up with him; he was big in the community. He’s the one who started the Cecil Shorts name.
VRENTAS: With five games to play, you still have a chance at winning the division. Why do you think the Texans will be in the playoffs?
SHORTS: I know, it’s exciting. It’s really exciting that we still have a shot at the division. Everything is in our own hands. We have to go out there and take care of business. The way we are playing right now, if we keep this up, we have a good shot. There’s no guarantees, but I like the position we are in right now.