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USC corners Chris Steele and Isaac Taylor-Stuart bring talent, if not experience, to position

USC freshman cornerback Chris Steele tackles a sled during a practice at Howard Jones Field on the campus of USC.
USC freshman cornerback Chris Steele tackles a sled during a practice at Howard Jones Field on the campus of USC.
(Shotgun Spratling / For The Times)

The two former five-star cornerbacks strode confidently onto the Coliseum field as starters last Saturday, oozing with raw talent, but drastically lacking in experience.

Chris Steele and Isaac Taylor-Stuart both looked the part of young shutdown corners, blessed with prototype size and extraordinary athleticism.

Taylor-Stuart, a redshirt freshman, was a sinewy 6 foot 2 and as sticky in coverage as any corner in USC’s camp. Steele, a true freshman, was already fearless and physical, with all the raw tools to grow into a top draft pick.

Two weeks ahead of USC’s season debut, they stood together atop a crowded, temporary depth chart as perhaps the least experienced — but maybe most talented — new corner duo in college football.

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Whether they’ll remain there is still to be determined.

USC coach Clay Helton has made it clear that no depth chart decisions, outside of the recent one at quarterback, would be announced publicly until next Friday, the day before the opener against Fresno State. Most of those situations appear somewhat settled already.

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That’s not the case at corner, where Steele and Taylor-Stuart only recently began working together on the first team. Steele has locked into repetitions on the right side, where defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast said he’s had an easier time settling into his footwork and eye control.

“He’s made some strides as of late,” Pendergast said of Steele.

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Taylor-Stuart, who played only a handful of snaps across four games last season, has spent most of camp working as one of the two first-team corners.

When asked whether the two corners had solidified their place on the depth chart, Pendergast suggested not to read anything into their practice reps.

“We’re competing through the rest of this next week, and we’ll see where it is before Fresno,” Pendergast said Wednesday, “but I like the way the guys are working at it right now.”

Where Olaijah Griffin stands in that ongoing competition is still up in the air. The sophomore corner was the talk of USC’s first week of camp, after he recorded five interceptions over five electric practices.

Since, Griffin has cooled down somewhat. Before USC closed its practices to the media, he had been consistently rotating between both the first- and second-team defenses.

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That fluid rotation will likely flow over into the regular season. Helton said Thursday that they “plan on playing multiple corners in that first game [to] let the kids get a feel for game action.”

As they dipped their toes into that game action during last Saturday’s scrimmage, the secondary’s youth was quickly apparent.

Helton pointed to USC’s uber-talented receiving corps as a reason for the young corners’ struggles throughout. But he also admitted that “youth in the secondary” was his biggest concern with only two weeks left until the season.

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It was the same answer he’d given earlier in camp.

“It’s going to be for us, on the outside, some corners that are going to learn fast and learn from each experience,” Helton said. “We may have some growing pains early, but they are talented, talented individuals. As they grow, we’ll grow as a defense.”

But as the secondary goes, amid a brutal first-month gantlet, so might USC’s defense. That means counting on two young corners to hold their own in a hurry, while everything else surrounding USC’s football program hangs in the balance.


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