Friday Night Files: Marcus Henderson

Nov 5, 2019

Tennessee is currently trying to put the finishing touches on its 2020 recruiting class. While the Vols have a class currently sitting at twentieth nationally, but the Vols are still very much in the hunt for some elite players in the 2020 class. Since arriving on Rocky Top, Jeremy Pruitt’s top priority has been to upgrade Tennessee’s talent on the offensive and defensive lines, and that will remain at top priority in the 2020 cycle. On defense, Pruitt had some talented players when he arrived, but none fit his 3-4 scheme on defense. After a season of watching players play hard but out of position, Pruitt now has a defensive line rotation primarily made up of guys he brought in, bigger players that fit his scheme. This group is a priority in the 2020 cycle, however, because many of those additions were from the JUCO or transfer ranks, and they will have exhausted their eligibility after the 2020 season. On the offensive line, the players Pruitt inherited, with the notable exception of Trey Smith, just were not playing well at all. Correcting that group has been a more involved process, but after adding one of the best offensive line classes in the country in 2019, the Vols are showing promise up front. Tennessee will need to replace veterans like Smith and Brandon Kennedy after 2020 at the latest, so interior linemen are still a priority. These needs are part of the reason Memphis University School product Marcus Henderson is intriguing on the Vols’ recruiting board.

First and foremost, Henderson is an All-American, and he has earned that honor food good reason. Henderson is listed at six feet five inches tall and two hundred eighty-five pounds. He is an interesting prospect because of his size and skillset. Henderson plays all over the offensive line for Memphis University School, lining up at left tackle, right tackle, left guard, and as a blocking, offset hybrid between H-Back and tight end in short-yardage for the Owls. That versatility is bred from his body type, his talent, and his high intelligence. Henderson is a bright young man away from the gridiron, but he also has a high football IQ. He shows the ability to learn multiple positions on the offensive line and to play each role well. The ability to play so many positions on the line, sometimes playing as many as three spots in one drive, speaks to his team-first attitude as well. The ability to play multiple spots on the offensive line is a trait that Tennessee offensive line coach Will Friend has notably tried to develop in his players, that Henderson is already so adept and effective filling multiple positions will be something he covets in the athletic lineman.

What makes Henderson so good is difficult to explain because he seems to showcase a different set of skills depending on his position. It is also worth noting that the first-hand evaluations presented here were drawn watching Henderson line up across from Omari Thomas on both sides of the ball. Thomas, a Briarcrest product, is himself an All-American, and one of the most impressive athletes in the nation for 2020. Henderson and Thomas are friends, so watching the two square off afforded an excellent opportunity to see what each could do against the best competition. Henderson is rarely overmatched physically, but there were times when Thomas rushed Henderson, playing left tackle, that he was driven back. Henderson weathered the storm, however, staying in front of Thomas with impeccable technique, outstanding footwork, and dogged determination. Thomas has long arms and unbelievable explosion coming off the edge at his size, and he also had a longer reach than Henderson, but one on one, Henderson won far more of those matchups than he lost. His hand punch was a factor in keeping Thomas at bay, as was his ability to stay square with him. Henderson handled one of the best 3-4 defensive end prospects in the nation, and he did so playing in a different role than he is likely to play in college.

Where Henderson is most likely to land at the next level is as an offensive guard. Henderson had originally been graded out as a tackle, but going into his senior year he dedicated himself to reshaping his body, increasing his strength and quickness, dropping bad weight, and moving inside to guard. The move moved Henderson from a very good tackle prospect to an elite guard. Henderson had the feet and athleticism of a left tackle, but his arms aren’t quite as long as most tackles. Moving to guard, arm length becomes far less of an issue, and his crisp technique, good pad level, and quickness come to bear in a major way. Henderson has the strength to push other players around and make a hole where there isn’t one in the run game much better than most interior linemen of his size. He applies his strength extremely well and maximizes it by playing low and using his hands well. Henderson has an excellent technique, and it allows him to maximize his physical talent. When asked to pass protect, Henderson looks far more comfortable than most guards do, which comes from playing outside at left tackle for so long. He moves very well for a player of his size and is one of the best pass protecting guards in this recruiting class. Henderson truly shines when he is put in space, asked to pull or lead on a screen. His speed is surprising for his build, and he gets across the line to open holes quickly, and he can lead run plays or screens into the second and third levels of the defense. He has a frame that, with a college strength and conditioning program, could easily be effective at 300-315 pounds. Whether he adds that weight or not remains to be seen, however, because Henderson can contribute in other places as well.

While Henderson was originally evaluated as an offensive line prospect, after he dropped the weight he began to get some looks on the defensive line as well. At two hundred eighty-five pounds, Henderson is the size and frame that the Vols like for defensive ends in their 3-4 scheme. Like on offense, the Owl coaching staff moved Henderson all over the defensive line. His most impressive reps came when lined up across from Thomas, who is one of, if not the most, destructive offensive linemen in the country. Early in the game, Thomas got the better of Henderson a few times, but Henderson refused to let it rattle him. After working bull rushes and inside moves for most of the game, on a critical third down, Henderson came at Thomas with a speed rush off the edge and beat him clean. Thomas is an incredibly long, athletic left tackle. He is rarely beaten on a speed rush, and never as cleanly or emphatically as Henderson did on that play. It was incredibly impressive, and Henderson showed a burst and straight-line speed that was not expected. Henderson didn’t get the sack, but he blew up the play and it forced a Briarcrest punt. Henderson also denied the Saints a touchdown, on a fourth and goal run from the one, Henderson delivered a hit to Briarcrest running back and Ole Miss commit Jabari Small, then stripped the ball free. The Owls recovered and the Saints were held scoreless, a stand that proved to ultimately be a difference in the game. Henderson could play for the Vols on the line at the size he is now, though, with the speed he showed, Tennessee might attempt to slim him down a bit more to create an end capable of holding the run and generating a pass rush as a down lineman.

Henderson is scheduling his official visit to Tennessee, as well as to several other SEC schools. He has been one of the players that has been highlighted in Tennessee recruiting the city of Memphis much harder under Jeremy Pruitt than the Vols have in over a decade. Henderson is an elite talent that could contribute at multiple positions, possibly on both sides of the ball. The Vols have been a player for Henderson for some time now, and they should be players for this highly intelligent, highly skilled athlete down the stretch. Henderson will help whatever team secures his commitment immediately, partially thanks to his talent, partially due to his ability to plug in wherever he is needed, and in part, because he is mentally ready to attack a college program and playbook. Tennessee has recruited Memphis well under Jeremy Pruitt, but this class could be the strongest yet, particularly if the Vols can land Henderson.

Brandon Martin

Brandon Martin

Senior Recruiting Analyst

Brandon Martin is from the mountains of southeast Tennessee, a proud alumnus of ETSU, and has ended up living in Nashville after stints in Memphis and the Tri-Cities.

Football season takes him all over the Southeast, covering games in the Nashville-Middle Tennessee region, East Tennessee, Memphis-West Tennessee, Alabama, Kentucky, Georgia, Mississippi, and Virginia. He covers all things UT with a focus on Recruiting and Tennessee Basketball. If you see him at a game, please, come say hello.

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