The second-year coordinator/linebackers coach has mixed and matched through nine games to overcome the shortcomings of a group that was already limited in numbers before the season started.
"It's a little like pro ball," Steele said. "We don't have that many guys in our meeting room. We're down to five in our meeting room. In a 4-3 defense, having five linebackers available is a little stretch."
Brandon Maye was moved to the weak-side in the spring, but he missed time early on with an injury. His replacement, Jonathan Willard, suffered a setback because of an elbow injury.
An ACL injury to utility-man Daniel Andrews threw things out of kilter, prompting Justin Parker‘s move from the middle to the back up at strong behind Quandon Christian.
|"I looked up the other day and there were three different hands on the board telling me what happened on the play, which is really positive. For a moment, you want to say, ‘Sit down and be quiet. I've got this.' Really, you don't want to, because they're doing it the right way."|
"The only constant we've had is 34 being there--Quandon being at the SAM and some at the money position in nickel, and Corico in the middle," Steele said.
But things are coming around, from a mental standpoint.
"Mental errors have gone way down. We're playing smarter," Steele said. "Knock on wood, it's going better, right now."
The biggest improvement is noticed during the sideline coaching sessions on Saturdays.
"I looked up the other day and there were three different hands on the board telling me what happened on the play, which is really positive," he said. "For a moment, you want to say, ‘Sit down and be quiet. I've got this.' Really, you don't want to, because they're doing it the right way."
The four-game streak of just one touchdown by opposing offenses is on the line when Clemson (5-4, 3-3 ACC) heads to Tallahassee to play Florida State (6-3, 4-2 ACC).
However, Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder didn't practice Monday because of an elbow injury. According to reports, he's also expected to miss Tuesday's practice.
"He played pretty well with that injury the other day, and he hurt it in the game," Steele said. "He's had care and treatment. He didn't get any care and treatment between the first quarter and the end of the game.
"We fully expect to see him."
Practicing in place of Ponder is E.J. Manuel, who was named MVP of the Gator Bowl.
Ponder was sidelined for the remainder of the season after sustaining a shoulder injury against Clemson.
"The backup quarterback is a very talented young man--a good football player," Steele said.
The breakdown of the Gator Bowl film wasn't much different than film with Ponder playing quarterback.
Steele said close to 85 percent of it was the Seminoles' "normal offense." Most of the wrinkles were in the quarterback run game.
Florida State ranks 24th in rushing with196.6 yards per game and 65th in passing with a 214 yard average.
The Seminoles' three-headed rushing attack is very "effective."
Chris Thompson leads the team with 533 yards. Jermaine Thomas is second with 480. Behind him is Ty Jones with 426.
On the depth chart, all three are listed as potential starters.
"It's 5.4 yards per carry and 196 yards a game--it's impressive," Steele said.
A veteran offensive line paves the way for the fourth-best ground game in the ACC.
Steele's very impressed with the Florida State front, particularly left guard Rodney Hudson and center Ryan McMahon.
"You're talking about 39 starts and 34 starts between them," Steele said. "They've seen a lot of football. They're big, strong guys--very athletic. It's a very athletic offensive line--very well coached."