Arkansas defensive line coach Charlie Partridge knew he had a great group of first-teamers headed into preseason camp, but he was a little concern about the back-ups.
But the emergence of redshirt freshman Darius Philon (6-3, 290) and redshirt sophomore DeMarcus Hodge (6-1, 340) at the defensive tackle spots has him very pleased.
Especially with the maturity shown by Philon, who was left at the alter by Alabama coach Nick Saban on signing day and signed with the Razorbacks instead.
"He has bought in hook, line and sinker to the fundamentals and he is being trustworthy in all aspects," Partridge said. "He has really just matured as a person and that has carried over to the football field. I am proud of him right now."
Partridge admits that he was a little leery of Philon's attitude when the coach first arrived from Wisconsin.
"When we first got here – and certainly you make your own judgement and every one has a clean slate – but regardless you listen to the rumblings and he was just an immature young man," Partridge said. "I think he would admit that to you himself.
"He is starting to grow up and approach things the right way as a young man instead of a boy out high school," Partridge added. "He is seeing the fruits of those choices."
Philon agrees he didn't approach things the right way last season and is happy that he redshirted and didn't waste a year.
"All that is behind me now so I just take it one day at a time up here," Philon said. "Now I basically try to learn my fundamentals and show that I really want to play.
"Redshirting is not a bad thing," Philon added. "Basically it gives you a year to mature and get ready for the next obstacle that you will have on the field the next year."
Hodge agrees that Philon has matured.
"I think he has definitely grown up and it was time," Hodge said. "We needed him to grow up. He is more dialed in and focused on what he needs to do. He is learning his part to this team and his role and is just coming in and working hard every day."
Philon noted that seniors Robert Thomas and Byran Jones have tried to take him under their wing.
"I just take it one day at a time and work on my fundamentals and basically learning from the older guys in front of me," Philon said. "Basically taking what they do and learning from them out there."
He was stunned how big a difference there was in terms of speed from high school to the college game.
"The biggest transition from high school to college is the speed of the game," Philon said. "Basically I never thought the game speed would be this fast. I just had to get focused on the game speed."
Partridge noted that Jones being out a few days actually benefitted Philon and Hodge, who got a chance to work with Thomas and defensive ends Chris Smith and Trey Flowers on the first team.
"Byron has missed a couple of days because he tweaked his ankle and we are being precautionary there," Partidge said. "We are certainly pleased with those other three starters, but the thing it has done is given Darius Philon and DeMarcus Hodge for more reps and they are getting better because of it."
Hodge saw action in three games (Jacksonville State, Alabama and Texas A&M) last season and had two tackles.
"I feel like we are one of the older members of our team and it is our job to lead this team and set the standard and for everybody to follow," Hodge said. "Going through camp so far, I think we are doing that."
"It is pretty different," Hodge said. "We live by the phrase 1-0. So we are winning every day, every play, every rep. I think it is a lot more fun. Players get out there and they show emotion and you have got to have emotion to play the game. Everybody is passionate about what they are doing and their role on this team."
Hodge enjoyed practicing in the rain on Tuesday.
"I loved it," Hodge said. "Honestly I probably had the best practice I have ever had today. I loved that cool feeling and having the rain on my back and on my pads. I feel like I was moving faster."
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