FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas wide receiver Sam Mbake will miss the 2023 season because of a knee injury, a team spokesperson confirmed to Best of Arkansas Sports on Monday.
The injury occurred Saturday, during the Razorbacks’ first scrimmage of fall camp. Head coach Sam Pittman said Mbake left the scrimmage early, but declined to divulge any details when meeting with reporters afterward.
However, speculation that it was a significant injury quickly grew when Mbake shared a photo on his Instagram with a caption that said he’d “have to wait a lil longer” and to “trust the process.”
It’s a tough break for one of Arkansas’ breakout performers through the first seven days of fall camp. Mbake has flashed during the periods of practice open to the media, including reeling in a deep ball from Cade Fortin after beating Lorando “Snaxx” Johnson during a 3-on-3 period Thursday morning.
Plays like that led to Pittman telling reporters that he’d be “on the field as much as anybody this year” following that practice, just two days before his season-ending injury.
“Heck yeah he’s going to be able to help us,” Pittman said. “I mean, Mbake is a wonderful person and he plays 90 mph all the time and it’s important to him. He has improved in every aspect of his game — speed, strength, awareness of what he’s doing.”
A four-star recruit out of North Cobb High School in Kennesaw, Ga., Mbake did not redshirt as a true freshman last year despite not getting many reps on offense. That is because he was a regular contributor on special teams, playing 81 total snaps on the kickoff coverage (41), punt return (21), punt coverage (14) and kickoff return (5) units.
Mbake’s only action at wide receiver came in the Liberty Bowl against Kansas. He was not targeted, but did play eight snaps. It’s also worth noting that he converted to cornerback midway through the season and spent a couple weeks there before moving back to receiver.
The good news is that Mbake has the makeup of a guy who should come back strong from the injury and be ready to contribute as a redshirt sophomore in 2024, based on comments from wide receivers coach Kenny Guiton earlier in the week.
“Everybody knows what Sam is going to give you,” Guiton said. “He’s going to give you 100 mph, 100% effort in everything he does. At times, you’ve got to slow him down.”
What it Means for Arkansas Football
Losing a player like Sam Mbake to a season-ending injury is tough, especially considering he appeared to be on the brink of a breakout year, but the Razorbacks have luckily developed some depth at wide receiver.
In fact, it’s not a guarantee that he would have been a starter. The frontrunners to start on the outside appear to be transfers Andrew Armstrong and Isaac TeSlaa, with Isaiah Sategna having the edge in the slot.
That means Mbake was likely competing with the likes of Jaedon Wilson and another transfer, Tyrone Broden, for one of the top backup roles. If he doesn’t win the starting job, Bryce Stephens is expected to be Sategna’s backup in the slot.
That is seven names without including freshmen Davion Dozier and Dazmin James, both of whom have had some good moments in fall camp, or key walk-ons like Chris Rhodes, Chris Harris and Marlon Crockett.
Wide receivers coach Kenny Guiton told reporters that Arkansas plans to travel nine or 10 receivers this season, but the top six “better be ready to play” while the other three or four will likely be heavy special teams contributors.
Not having Mbake means Arkansas has one less potential target, but any passes going to him will likely be spread across the aforementioned top six — not to mention the tight ends, whom are expected to have a larger role in the offense under Dan Enos.
It also opens the door for the Razorbacks to travel both of their freshmen and/or a walk-on or two for special teams purposes.
Other Practice Observations from Day 9
- It was a nice, cool morning in Fayetteville after storms rolled through overnight. The Razorbacks practiced outdoors in helmets, shoulder pads and shorts — or half-pads.
- There was a group of six players who weren’t dressed out for practice: Linebackers Chris Paul Jr. and Antonio Grier, defensive end Jashaud Stewart, tight end Nathan Bax, left tackle Devon Manuel and offensive lineman Joey Su’a.
- Sam Pittman told reporters that Paul is dealing with a “slight MCL” injury and that he could have played Saturday if it was a real game. He and Manuel have now missed the last three practices, but Manuel’s injury is unknown. Pittman revealed after the scrimmage that Bax got banged up Saturday and this was the first time Grier has been spotted with the injured players, too. Stewart got dinged up last Thursday and is believed to be returning soon. Su’a has been out for a while and his injury is not known.
- At the tail end of their pre-practice stretches and calisthenics, running back AJ Green was in the middle of the field leading the team through their final jumping jacks before heading into the “fastball starts” team period.
- In that “fastball starts” period, Jaheim Singletary was once again working with the first-team defense – this time opposite of Dwight McGlothern – and made a nice pass breakup. A few plays later, KJ Jefferson hit Andrew Armstrong for a long gain. He put it on the money, but it still required a tough grab for Armstrong.
- Freshman linebacker Alex Sanford drew some praise from Pittman following Saturday’s scrimmage and on Monday, he was on the receiving end of some shouting from Pittman. The “fastball starts” period is supposed to be “thud” – meaning not tackling to the ground – and the Oxford, Miss., product picked up the ball carrier on a run play. After the whistles finally stopped the play, Pittman singled him out and reminded him it was just supposed to be thud.
Arkansas Football Depth Chart – Day 9
NOTE: This is based on how the Razorbacks lined up during a brief team period during the media viewing session. It doesn’t necessarily reflect how the depth chart actually stands now.
|QB||KJ Jefferson||Jacolby Criswell||Cade Fortin / Malachi Singleton|
|RB||Rocket Sanders||AJ Green||Isaiah Augustave|
|WR||Andrew Armstrong||Davion Dozier||Kalil Girault|
|WR||Isaac TeSlaa||Tyrone Broden||Marlon Crockett|
|SLOT||Jaedon Wilson||Isaiah Sategna||Bryce Stephens|
|TE||Luke Hasz||Ty Washington||Var’keyes Gumms|
|LT||Andrew Chamblee||Luke Brown||Tommy Varhall|
|LG||Brady Latham||Josh Street||Paris Patterson|
|C||Beaux Limmer||Amaury Wiggins||Brooks Edmonson|
|RG||Joshua Braun||Ty’Kieast Crawford||Cole Carson|
|RT||Patrick Kutas||E’Marion Harris||Aaron Smith|
|DE||Trajan Jeffcoat||Landon Jackson||John Morgan III|
|DT||Cam Ball||Anthony Booker Jr.||Taurean Carter|
|DT||Keivie Rose||Eric Gregory||Kyle Thompson|
|DE||Zach Williams||Nico Davillier||Jon Hill|
|LB||Jaheim Thomas||Brad Spence||Alex Sanford|
|LB||Jordan Crook||Brooks Both||Carson Dean|
|NB||Lorando Johnson||Jaylen Lewis||Jabrae Shaw|
|CB||Jaheim Singletary||Jaylon Braxton||Kee’yon Stewart|
|S||Hudson Clark||Jayden Johnson||Dylan Hasz|
|S||Alfahiym Walcott||Malik Chavis||TJ Metcalf|
|CB||Dwight McGlothern||LaDarrius Bishop||Aidan McCowan|
Hear from tight ends coach Morgan Turner and several tight ends following Monday’s practice:
More coverage of Arkansas football and Arkansas fall camp from BoAS…