There's no need for Clemson's defensive coordinator to get too invested in who's ahead of who—at least for the next several months.
"They've got to print something. I don't know what it is until it's settled in fall camp," Steele said.
Shortly after the conclusion of Clemson's spring practice, we know this much. Corico Hawkins looks like he could be the starter in the middle (MIKE), Brandon Maye and Jonathan ‘Tig' Willard are competing for the weak-side (WILL) and Quandon Christian appears ready to take over on the strong-side (SAM).
Incoming freshman Justin Parker must be ready to compete from the word go.
"When you look at us, numbers-wise, we're still a little short," Steele said. "I think he needs to come in with a mind-set that he's got to be ready step up quick, learn it quick and compete for playing time."
From what he saw during the 15 spring practices, Christian's emergence might be the most surprising.
"For a young guy that has not played at this level, he's really grasped the concept of the defense, the application of it and the technique of it—playing with really good vision," Steele said of Quandon Christian. (Roy Philpott)
The increased flexibility comes in the Tigers' nickel situations, not the base 4-3. Most of the snaps Clemson's defense played in last season were in the nickel, which features two linebackers (MONEY and MACK). Christian is also a candidate to play some in the MONEY position. Brandon Maye and Corico Hawkins both have experience at MACK.
"[Spencer] Shuey is more suited for the MIKE linebacker. He's progressed in just understanding the concepts of the defense," Steele said. "I thought Corico picked up where he left off in the fall and progressed nicely. We experimented with moving Brandon around a little bit. He adapted to that.
"Tig Willard picked up where he left off. It's given us a few more options. We lost Scott (Cooper) to injury (this spring). That's kind of a wild-card, if you will. Daniel Andrews is a guy that's become a multiple piece of the puzzle. He understands how to do a lot of things."
Concerned with the group entering the spring, Steele's not ready to say the linebackers are there yet.
"We've got a few more options, but it's still, by far and away, a work in progress," he said.