Clemson's Steele makes transition easy for strong secondary

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Over the past three seasons, Clemson cornerback Chris Chancellor had earned the nickname "little Vic" because of his close relationship with former defensive coordinator Vic Koenning.

Koenning had become like a father figure to Chancellor, so when Koenning left for Kansas State because he wasn't guaranteed a spot on Clemson's new staff, it hit Chancellor hard.

Kevin Steele helped make the transition easier.

Steele, Clemson's new defensive coordinator, brought an aggressive scheme with him to Death Valley, but he was also a familiar face. He's known Chancellor since Chancellor was a sophomore at Miami Edison Senior High School and Steele, then a member of Florida State's staff, was recruiting him.

"Me and him go way back," Chancellor said. "When they said they were thinking about getting Kevin Steele I was like, 'what?' Me and coach Steele, we real cool, we connect. When he came, we sat down and talked a little bit, he told me about everything."

Steele inherited an already talented defense and he is working to make even better. Last year, Clemson's defense ranked in the top 20 in the nation in scoring defense, total defense and pass defense. The secondary has been a strength for the Tigers, and it might be the strength of the entire team in 2009. Although it lost its leaders in safeties Michael Hamlin and Chris Clemons, the Tigers return veteran cornerbacks Crezdon Butler and Chancellor.

"We pretty much learned the defense this spring and so far we're liking it," Butler said. "We can be more aggressive at the corner positions. We're looking forward to this year. It's going to be exciting. Last year we were more of zone, and we had the principle of don't get beat deep, so we couldn't play as aggressive. This year it's going to be exciting. It's going to be a different type of defense."

And Butler and Chancellor will be leading it. The two of them have started together in the secondary for each of the past 26 straight games. Butler has 10 career interceptions for 196 yards, tied for the most interceptions and the most return yards among active ACC players. Both of them had four interceptions each last season.

Although their coordinator has changed, their motto has not.

"Me and Butler, we've got a motto: Every time the ball is in the air, if it's not a pick, it's a PBU," Chancellor said. "That's our motto. Every time we hit the field we say that and go out there and give it our all and try to lock people down."