FAYETTEVILLE — The Arkansas football team has suffered another blow to its depth for the Liberty Bowl, as Marcus Henderson entered the transfer portal Wednesday evening.
Listed as the backup center on the depth chart released by the UA for the upcoming showdown with Kansas, Henderson is instead the Razorbacks’ 21st scholarship player to hit the transfer portal since fall camp in August.
A four-star prospect in the 247Sports Composite when he committed to Arkansas on National Signing Day 2020, Henderson was a touted prospect coming out of Memphis University School with offers from numerous programs.
Head coach Sam Pittman and former offensive line coach Brad Davis were really high on him and tried to get creative in order to get him on the field. That included giving him reps at tight end.
Unfortunately, that resulted in him playing only nine total offensive snaps during his three seasons with the Razorbacks, even though he was a mainstay in the two-deep depth chart.
Originally believed to be a future tackle, Henderson struggled to keep on the weight Pittman desires in his offensive linemen and ultimately moved to center before this season. That’s where — when healthy (he battled a pectoral injury this year) — he got reps with the second-team offense in practice.
However, Henderson was likely the third-team center because right guard Beaux Limmer would slide over if anything happened to starting center Ricky Stromberg. Sure enough, that’s exactly what happened during bowl prep with Stromberg opting out to focus on the NFL Draft.
Another Blow to Liberty Bowl Roster
Losing a third-team player is typically not a big deal, but Marcus Henderson had been elevated to the true second unit for the Liberty Bowl and was one injury away from being forced into action.
With Henderson and Ricky Stromberg both unavailable, the Razorbacks’ depth at center is razor thin. Considering he has openly talked about wanting as many as five different players available to snap the ball, Sam Pittman probably feels a bit uneasy about the position heading into the Kansas game.
If something were to happen to Beaux Limmer, it’s not immediately clear how Arkansas would adjust.
One possibility is moving Luke Jones from left tackle to center and elevating one of the youngsters — redshirt freshman Devon Manuel or true freshman Andrew Chamblee — into the spot protecting KJ Jefferson’s blindside.
Another option is putting in one of the Razorbacks’ other centers, like Josh Street or Patrick Kutas. However, Street is a walk-on and Kutas is a true freshman whom Pittman put at center earlier this season in an effort to speed up the learning process. Plus, Kutas struggled with consistency when it came to snapping the ball.
“If you want to teach someone how to play o-line, put him at center,” Pittman said during fall camp. “He has to know everything at that point, he doesn’t just have to know his spot. He has to know everything. He’s kind of the quarterback up there. I’ve always thought that that’d be a great place to play one of your best young kids, because he has to learn the game in there.
Even if Limmer stays healthy for the entire Kansas game, it’s still notable that Henderson is transferring because he’s yet another blow to the Razorbacks’ Liberty Bowl roster.
Between opt outs, transfers and injuries, Best of Arkansas Sports unofficially counts only 55 scholarship players available for the bowl. That is close to the 53-man threshold that was in place during the pandemic-altered 2020 season, when games would get postponed if numbers dropped to that level.
It’s also worth noting that the 55 scholarship players includes a pair of Razorbacks whose status remains up in the air because of injuries. Defensive lineman Eric Gregory had a knee scope after the Missouri game and long snapper Eli Stein missed the regular-season finale with a finger injury.
The losses are particularly jarring when you take a look at Arkansas’ depth chart from its Week 1 matchup with Cincinnati.
Not including special teams, nine of the Razorbacks 22 listed starters will not play in the Liberty Bowl. Expand that to include all of the players on the depth chart and they’ll be without 14 of 52 listed players.
Longterm Impact on Arkansas Football
As mentioned above, Marcus Henderson was buried on the depth chart this season and it didn’t look like he had a very clear path to playing time next year, either.
Beaux Limmer is widely believed to be the starting center in 2023, but Henderson would likely have an opportunity to be the backup and Sam Pittman loves having multiple linemen capable of playing center.
That said, there’s no guarantee he would have won the backup job. Even though he struggled with consistently snapping the ball in fall camp, Patrick Kutas could make a significant jump in his second year in college. The Razorbacks also signed Eli Henderson as a center in the same class as Kutas.
Considering news of Marcus Henderson entering the transfer portal broke just a couple hours after Sam Pittman met with reporters to talk about the 2023 signing class and his plans for the remaining scholarships, it’s likely he knew it was coming. That probably had something to do with Pittman saying he wanted another center from the transfer portal.
“We need another guy that can snap the football,” Pittman said. “I think you can’t have enough snappers, and losing Luke Jones, he was obviously a go-to guy, as well, so we may look at somebody that can play center/guard combination.”
Looking Back at 2020 Signing Class
Marcus Henderson was the 20th and final member of the Razorbacks’ 2020 signing class. It wasn’t a particularly touted group, but that was partly due to Sam Pittman having only a few weeks between being hired and the early signing period.
The class was ranked anywhere between 29th and 41st nationally, depending on where you look, and was 11th in the SEC across the board.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the class has mostly been a dud for Arkansas. With Henderson’s departure, only three players from that group remain on campus: running back Dominique Johnson, defensive end Jashaud Stewart and tight end Collin Sutherland.
Sutherland has yet to see the field, but Johnson and Stewart have been solid contributors for the Razorbacks. Outside of them, guys like Myles Slusher, Julius Coates and Khari Johnson started multiple games before transferring.
The rest of the class consisted of players who either never made it to campus, never saw the field before transferring or had minor roles before transferring.
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