Josh Kendall

Gamecocks hope to play hide and seek with Deebo Samuel on offense

For South Carolina’s offense to be its best in 2017, wide receiver Deebo Samuel is going to have to stand out. For Samuel to stand out, the Gamecocks are going to have to make him blend in.

Samuel, a 6-foot, 215-pound junior from Inman, is South Carolina’s leading returning receiver thanks to 59 catches for 783 yards a year ago. He also had 15 carries that resulted in 98 yards and six touchdowns. He will be the focus of opposing defenses this fall.

The Gamecocks will attempt to counter that attention by lining Samuel up in multiple positions and getting him the ball in multiple ways.

“It’s not about plays, it’s about players. Let’s put him in different spots and get him the ball,” coach Will Muschamp said. “He can play outside. He can play inside. He can play running back. He can do a lot of different things for us. The more you put him in different spots, the harder it is defend.”

Asked where he expected Samuel to be lined up this season, quarterback Jake Bentley replied, “Shoot, everywhere probably.”

“He will probably line up at quarterback a few plays,” Bentley said. “He’s a guy we are going to move around everywhere in our offense and get him the ball whenever we can.”

Bentley’s line about quarterback was only half in jest. If the Gamecocks use a wildcat quarterback formation, Samuel would be the perfect player to take the snap.

“He’s a guy who’s very dangerous with the ball in his hand, he’s got really good lower body strength, he can run through tackles. He’s like a running back with the ball in his hands,” Muschamp said. “We have to find different ways to target him in the game, 10-15 times. He needs to be touching the ball. We have to continue to be creative to find ways we can get him the ball and people can’t take that away from us.”

Samuel, who has been limited to 15 games in two years because of injury, has 944 career receiving yards at South Carolina. He has added 455 yards as a kickoff returner, a spot he is expected to play again this year. Samuel has averaged 14.3 yards every time he has touched the ball for the Gamecocks in his various roles.

“If you leave Deebo in one spot, they will leave two guys on him and block him off the rest of the game,” Bentley said. “We have to be able to move him around and get him the ball whenever we can.”

Muschamp has praised Samuel’s progress throughout fall camp and said Samuel’s intelligence has made it easier for him to learn multiple plays from multiple positions. Samuel also has increased his individual repertoire of ways to get open as well, Bentley said.

“The biggest thing I have noticed with Deebo is his whole mentality with everything,” the quarterback said. “He wants to become that leader for the younger receivers. He wants to become the guy that teaches them. He wants to set the standard for a receiver at Carolina. That’s what he talks about all the time, and he’s really worked hard at doing that.”