Josh Kendall

Why are so many NFL scouts coming to Columbia? These two talents stand out

Deebo Samuel did not immediately recognize Deandre Baker’s name when it was mentioned this week.

Will Muschamp knows the name well.

“I’m extremely impressed,” South Carolina’s coach said. “The guy has really good ball skills down the field, and he’s a very physical player as well. He’s a willing tackler. He’s got really good length on the line of scrimmage and can win on the line of scrimmage. He wins a lot of 50-50 balls down the field. He has a really good knack of playing the football down the field. He has a lot of confidence, which as a corner in our league, you have to have confidence. I recruited him out of Northwestern High school, and I think he’s an outstanding player.”

Baker, a Miami native, is Georgia’s 5-foot-11, 185-pound senior cornerback. Samuel is the Gamecocks’ 6-foot, 210-pound star wide receiver. ESPN NFL draft analyst Todd McShay already has projected Baker as the No. 8 pick and Samuel as the No. 28 pick in next year’s draft.

Ten NFL scouts, a higher number than usual, have been credentialed for Saturday’s game between No. 24 South Carolina (1-0) and No. 3 Georgia (1-0) in Williams-Brice Stadium, and when the Gamecocks have the ball they will be watching closely anytime Samuel and Baker are lined up across from each other.

“I’ll take a challenge every day,” Samuel said.

When Samuel was asked about Baker by name on Tuesday, he replied, “Who?” But he was familiar with Baker’s No. 18 jersey number. He planned to study film on Baker later in the week, he said.

“Watch his feet, hands, see if he’s got good ball skills,” Samuel said.

Baker was named a first-team All-American by the Associated Press in the preseason. Samuel did not play against Georgia last year but remembers that he and Baker played each other in 2016 when Samuel had four catches for 90 yards.

“I had a pretty good game,” he said.

He’s also confident offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach Bryan McClendon will give him a good scouting report on Baker.

“BMac does a good job of teaching us different techniques of attacking different cornerbacks’ leverages and really get an advantage on other guys,” he said.

He’s eager to see how it plays out Saturday after having 112 all-purpose yards and one touchdown against Coastal Carolina last week.

“I’m sure Baker wants to play him; I think it works both ways,” Muschamp said. “The good players I’ve been around, it doesn’t matter who lines up across him, it’s, ‘Let’s go play.’”

South Carolina quarterback Jake Bentley won’t be afraid to throw toward Baker, he said.

“You may think about it like, ‘We don’t want to attack this guy on this certain route because he plays it pretty well,’ but for the most part, it’s just going out there and playing,” Bentley said. “As far as shying away from a corner altogether, no. It’s a challenge for (Samuel). I’m sure he’s excited to go against him. It’s going to be fun to watch.”