New USC Trojan Chris Steele learning the ropes at cornerback

USC head football coach Clay Helton runs players through warm-ups during the opening of training camp at USC on Aug. 2.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

As a pass floated towards the far corner of the end zone on Wednesday, one day after the NCAA granted his waiver to play this season at USC, Chris Steele kept stride for stride with his target, clinging as tightly as possible to veteran wideout Tyler Vaughns.

Too tightly, as it turned out. After knocking the ball away, Steele saw a streak of yellow behind him. The sideline official had thrown a flag for interference, one of several he’d seen over the first few days of camp. Steele threw his hands up in frustration.

“Give me five!” new defensive backs coach Greg Burns blurted from the sideline, as the highly touted freshman transfer at corner dropped into a set of halfhearted up-downs.


Amid all the hype of Steele’s arrival and subsequent clearance by the NCAA, it was a reminder of how far the young corner still has to go.

But on the day Steele finally put his lengthy recruiting saga behind him, he could be forgiven for being a bit overzealous. Since leaving Florida following spring ball, setting into motion a hectic few months that saw him commit to Oregon, then return to USC where he first committed last year, the four-star freshman’s status has been left mostly unsettled.

Now, with the NCAA’s decision official and one of the prized recruits officially in the mix ... well, there’s still a lot to be settled in USC’s secondary.

Although JT Daniels is expected to be named USC’s starter again, the sophomore quarterback still needs to compete for the starting job.

Aug. 6, 2019

Steele, who was not made available to the media, is one of several young USC defenders in the mix for a starting corner spot, both that remain open through the first week of camp. Sophomore Olaijah Griffin and redshirt freshman Isaac Taylor-Stuart have taken most of the reps with the first team defense, but both only played sparingly a year ago. Redshirt sophomore Greg Johnson, who has also rotated in as a starter, is basically the sage of the group.

Talent is not in short supply. But that inexperience has meant some inconsistency at the cornerback position through the first week of camp.

“It’s coming along,” Burns said. “It’s too hard to assess. There’s a good day and a bad day.”


Steele, Burns noted, has shown “a different comfort level” with the level of play, given the spring period he spent in Gainesville. But both Burns and defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast suggested that Steele still needs time to get acquainted with USC’s defense. So far, he has mixed in mostly with the second-team defense.

“We obviously really liked him coming out of high school,” Pendergast said. “We spent a lot of time recruiting him. We’re obviously excited to have him back. He’s catching up to learning the scheme, learning the techniques, which are new to him. He’s worked hard to understand those things.”

Steele may still have plenty to learn before carving out his place in USC’s secondary. But in a group of cornerbacks comprised primarily of young and talented freshmen and sophomores, he’s certainly not the only one.


Left tackle Austin Jackson returned to full action, after working his way back from surgery he underwent to donate bone marrow to his sister. … Running back Vavae Malepeai was present, but did not participate in practice. … USC practiced in full pads for the first time on Wednesday, following the NCAA’s required four-day acclimation period.