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Can Deebo Samuel take the next step for South Carolina in 2016?

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The redshirt sophomore wide receiver looks to live up to expectations placed on him by Will Muschamp.

NCAA Football: SEC Media Day Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports

We didn’t see a ton of Deebo Samuel in the 2015 season (he only appeared in five games), but what we did see of him gave Gamecocks fans promise that he could be a legitimate number-one receiver for this team. He broke out against Clemson in the final game of the regular season, making five catches for 104 yards for a touchdown against the then-#1 team in the country and eventual CFP runner-up. In the spring game, he hauled in three catches for 94 yards.

Will Muschamp spoke very highly of Samuel during his media availability this morning at SEC Media Days. Since the Gamecocks didn’t play Auburn last year, Muschamp was able to get his first look at the redshirt sophomore during spring workouts.

I think he has some elite ability. When he's been healthy last year, he's very productive for us and a guy we need to keep healthy. For us to be successfully offensively, he needs to play well. We need more guys around him in his position group to play well.

One of the things that came up during Samuel’s media availability is his leadership. With a crop of receivers, including Bryan Edwards, entering the fray in 2016, he has done all the right things to set himself up as a player to look up to in the locker room.

Samuel is the most experienced receiver on the team, which is not saying much. Now in his third year, he’s ready to make that jump to a leader...Head Coach Will Muschamp said he chose to bring Samuel to Hoover for the event because he’s stepped up as a leader and separated himself during spring practice.

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As part of his leadership role, Samuel said he’s helped organize players-only practices, where the team comes out and works without any of the coaching staff there.

He said it runs exactly like a normal practice, just without the coaches. The players, he said, approach it with the same intensity and attitude they would with normal, scheduled practice.

While not the tallest WR on the roster (six feet), Samuel stands to be a strong weapon in the receiving corps. He showed good awareness and speed in recording a 48-yard reception (his longest of the season) against Clemson.

On a seven-yard TD play in that game, Samuel lined up against Cordrea Tankersley, one of the top CBs in the ACC, in a shotgun set. You’ll notice his nifty footwork at the very beginning to fake his man out. That allows him to get in front of Tankersley and position himself to make the catch. (I’d have to say that the catch itself is tougher than it looks in real time.)

It’s clear that Deebo Samuel will be a centerpiece of this Gamecocks offense in 2016 and beyond. With questions surrounding the team and their ability to bounce back from a 3-9 campaign, seeing players like Samuel step up to the plate and take initiative in bringing players together is refreshing. Things like that will go a long way in this group’s on-field performance.