Dirk Koetter and Cecil Shorts III spent one season together with the Jacksonville Jaguars, the former finishing up a five-year run as the Jaguars' offensive coordinator and the latter just beginning his career as a fourth-round draft pick. Koetter left the next season to join another former Jaguar, Mike Smith, in Atlanta but he made sure to keep an eye on the young receiver out of Division III's Mount Union.
READ: BUCS SIGN CECIL SHORTS
"I followed him because of that, because of the fact that we were together that year," said Koetter, now in his second year with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and his first as the team's head coach. "So I've watched him throughout his Jacksonville career and then last year in Houston. Cecil is only 28 years old and is already in his sixth year. He's been a really steady player. When he's been healthy, he's been a very productive player in this league. He's smooth, he's explosive, he can return kicks."
Pictures of the newest member of the Buccaneers, WR Cecil Shorts.
Koetter will have a much easier time keeping track of Shorts now that his team has signed him following his release last weekend by the Texans. After trimming their own roster to 53 players on Saturday, the Buccaneers were left with just five wideouts and a noticeable lack of NFL experience in the last few spots. Adam Humphries, who had 27 catches as a rookie in 2015, has won the slot receiver job behind the prolific starting duo of Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson. The other two receivers on the roster after Saturday's cuts – Russell Shepard and Evan Spencer – had combined for seven career NFL receptions, all by Shepard during his first three years with the team. Shepard is, first and foremost, a special teams ace; Spencer was waived when the team signed Shorts.
That represents a serious upgrade of NFL experience, as Shorts has 218 career receptions of his own. He has also played in 61 games, started 38 of them and been a core member of his team's offense for at least three of his five NFL seasons.
READ: BUCCANEERS INJURY REPORT
"Cecil's been a number two in this league on almost every team he's been on," said Koetter. "We're asking him to sort of fill in the four-slot right now, if you believe in slotting guys. Players make plays on game day; whether they're the one, two, three, four or five, players make plays. If they're out there for us, we're expecting them to make plays."
Koetter did not predict how much Shorts would play in the season opener in Atlanta on Sunday, or if he would immediately be in the mix as a return man. The sixth-year veteran did get in his first Buccaneer practice on Wednesday, however, and was hopeful that he could get on the field sooner rather than later.
"You never know; I'm optimistic about everything," said Shorts. "Like I said, I'm going to get down to studying, see how fast I can pick things up. How many plays I'm playing this week, that will be up to the coaches. As time goes on, I've just got to absorb as much as I can."
Shorts said his one-season intersection with Koetter, even if it was five years ago, will help him a bit in the transition to a new team. He even recognizes some of the terminology from his old 2011 playbook. Koetter – again, a student of Shorts' career – knows that the receiver has successfully adapted to a new system several times in the past.
"The hard thing is the timing of it, just getting him up to speed," said the coach. "But when you get a guy that – I think he told me he went through three systems in Jacksonville, plus one in Houston. Just meeting with him a little bit last night, you can tell that the guy's a vet and he'll pick it up fast, but we're going to get him out there and have him ready to go, he'll be on the field this week."
- The Buccaneers waived (injured) running back Mike James on Wednesday and made no complementary addition to the roster, leaving them with just two tailbacks on the depth chart. That's not likely the way it will look by Sunday.
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Doug Martin and Charles Sims were the most prolific duo of running backs in the NFL in 2015, in terms of combined yards from scrimmage, and they left little room for a third back to catch any reps. The since departed Bobby Rainey, who filled that role and also returned kicks, played a total of 33 offensive snaps and logged five carries plus three receptions all season.
Still, the Bucs would not want to be short at the position on game day if an injury were to occur, so they will almost surely fill James' spot with another back at some point. There's just no particular hurry.
The Buccaneers' 53-Man roster.
"We only planned to keep three running backs on the 53-active, and it didn't look like Mike was going to be able to go this week," said Koetter, who anticipated that General Manager Jason Licht would make an addition later in the week. "So we're going to have a move there. [It's a] hard part of the business. I feel horrible for Mike but we've got to have 53 healthy guys ready for this week."
The Buccaneers are carrying two rookie running backs on the practice squad in Peyton Barber and Russell Hansbrough. Barber led the team in the preseason with 99 yards on 39 carries and Hansbrough was second with 50 yards on 22 totes.
- Koetter called opening week the "one chance to go into a game with 53 guys healthy." The point, of course, is that each successive game during the season will increase the likelihood of injuries, which in turn requires constant juggling of the lineup.
Still, a completely injury-free roster isn't even particularly common in Week One. That's evidenced by the first official injury reports of the season, which were submitted by both the Buccaneers and the Falcons on Wednesday afternoon. Tampa Bay's list is very short, but it's not completely blank.
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The only player on the 53-man roster who did not practice at all on Wednesday, was tight end Luke Stocker, who sat out with a back ailment. Rookie linebacker Devante Bond, who missed the final two preseason games with a hamstring strain, is on the injury report as well, although he was able to practice in a limited fashion. Rookie safety Ryan Smith rounds out the Bucs' list; he has a hand injury but was able to participate fully in Wednesday's workout.
The Falcons' first injury report was more than twice as long, with seven players listed, only one of whom was a full participant in Wednesday's practice. Defensive end Dwight Freeney did not practice but the cause is listed as "not injury related." Rookie safety Keanu Neal, Atlanta's first-round draft pick, remains out with a knee injury he sustained during the preseason.
Defensive end Adrian Clayborn (shoulder), safety Kemal Ishmael (shoulder), wide receiver Julio Jones (ankle) and running back Terron Ward (ankle) were all limited participants on Wednesday. Safety Robinson Therezie (thumb) was able to practice without limitations.
Teams are only required to report injury type and practice participation on the first two injury reports of the week. On Friday, the Bucs and Falcons will add game-status designations, and this year the league has made a slight change to the process. The former "probable" designation no longer exists, so all players will be listed as "questionable," "doubtful" or "out."
- Veteran end Robert Ayers likes what he sees from the Buccaneers' defensive line and thinks it will be puttingplenty of pressureon opposing quarterbacks in 2016. So far, the way he and his teammates have meshed up front has validated the choice he made in free agency back in March.
An unrestricted free agent coming off a nine-sack season for the New York Giants, Ayers was one of only a small handful of proven pass-rushers available on the market. He says he purposely chose the Buccaneers based on how he believed he would fit in Mike Smith's scheme, and among the linemen already on the roster.
"My personal opinion: That's what free agency is about," said Ayers. "A lot of people, they're just going to take the biggest contracts or the most money. Free agency, it's best to pick something that you fit in. Not to say that you're not a good player and you can only play in certain schemes, but you definitely want to be put in a position to utilize your talents and do what you do best. That's what I think this team presented for me."
Ayers showed in New York that he could effectively rush the passer from the edge or the interior of the line. The Buccaneers, who under Koetter and General Manager Jason Licht stress versatility at every position, plan to use him the same way, and in fact did so during the preseason. A common four-man front for Tampa Bay in obvious passing situations is Jacquies Smith and rookie Noah Spence on the ends with Ayers moving inside to play next to Gerald McCoy. That group wreaked havoc against the Cleveland Browns during the third week of the preseason.
Ayers was also drawn by new Bucs Defensive Line Coach Jay Hayes, who became one of the NFL's most respected assistants during a 13-year run (2003-15) with the Cincinnati Bengals.
"I think we've got one of the best D-Line coaches in the NFL and this is a hungry team," said Ayers. "There's a lot of talent on this defense, a lot of talent on offense, so I couldn't have found a better fit for me. I'm excited about it."