FAYETTEVILLE – For the last two seasons Arkansas established two true freshmen among its best offensive linemen.
He’s not among the first unit best yet, but true freshman Marcus Henderson of Memphis presumably opened Wednesday’s entirely closed practice at second-team left offensive tackle.
Henderson worked second-team left tackle Tuesday, the first full contact practice the Razorbacks have waged among their five practices leading into Wednesday’s sixth of preseason.
First-year Coach Sam Pittman’s Razorbacks are off Thursday and wage Friday their first full-scale preseason scrimmage.
Why is Henderson, 6-5, 284, already working No. 2 left tackle behind senior incumbent Myron Cunningham?
“First of all, I think he’s really smart,” Pittman said. “He’s learned the offense awfully fast. Another thing, he has outstanding feet. He likes to compete. He’s ahead of a lot of freshmen that I’ve coached in my past as far as the mental game of it, the strain, the competition part of it. He’s just a really good athlete that can play.”
If a guy can play, he can play regardless of age, Pittman said.
“He’s not necessarily playing like a freshman. He’s doing a really nice job,” Pittman said.
Noah Gatlin of Jonesboro, Arkansas’ best freshman O-lineman in 2018 playing the maximum four games allowed to redshirt, but then hardshipped anyway in 2019 because an August preseason knee injury required major surgery ending his season before it began, apparently has recovered well. Gatlin this week runs first-team right tackle.
Ricky Stromberg, Arkansas’ most touted offensive lineman in 2019 as a true freshman guard, now operates at first-team center.
Seems Razorbacks Treylon Burks of Warren did about all a true freshman could do last year but score a touchdown.
Wide receiver Burks caught 29 passes for 475 yards including a 38-yarder, averaged 10.8 yards returning 10 punts including a 32-yard return, and averaged 22.6 returning kickoffs including popping a 42-yarder.
But no touchdowns.
“I mean it would be nice to get in the end zone but I’m not really worried about that part,” Burks said matter of fact. “I’m just worried about making plays and help the team. If I do score, hurray, but I just want to win with the team.”
Pittman and new offensive coordinator Kendal Briles plan on giving him ample opportunities to make plays.
“We’ve got to find ways to get the ball to him,” Pittman said. “Whether it’s throwing it to him. Running him out of the backfield. Throwing quick swings to him. He’s a big, fast receiver that we need to get touches to him. And I think we have him on every special team. He’s a dynamic return guy and we’re using him there as well.”
Arkansas’ offensive line coach from 2013-2015, Pittman was Georgia’s offensive coach from 2016-2019 so obviously had no part recruiting Burks out of Warren.
But while at Arkansas under Bret Bielema, Pittman coached enough Arkansans and was involved in enough of their recruiting to appreciate the home state athletes staying home.
“He was loyal to Arkansas in recruiting and that makes a big difference to me, too,” Pittman said. “ so you’ve got to earn that spot, but he’s a talented guy. I really like him.”
Special teams coordinator Scott Fountain likes him, too, though he doesn’t like Burks’ unorthodox hands above his head method of catching punts and kickoffs.
“It’s a battle every day,” Burks said of breaking old habits. “Sometimes I get in that old habit and catch the ball with just my hands, but we’ve been working, the team has been working with me to get better at catching the ball like I’m supposed to. I’m going to do it the right way this time.”