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Hogs: Assistants ready to start practice

FAYETTEVILLE — Charlie Partridge enjoyed a little bit of down time with his family this summer, stepping away from the daily grind with relaxing trips to Myrtle Beach, S.C., and Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.

The Arkansas defensive line coach said it’s starting to feel like football season now, though. If he wasn’t sure, his two children have helped make it abundantly clear.

“I’ve got a soon to be 7-year-old and a 4-year-old saying, ‘Daddy when are you going back to football? It’s football time,’” Partridge said.

Arkansas’ new staff didn’t get much time out of the office this summer, remaining busy with recruiting, unpacking boxes in the new Fred W. Smith Football Center and completing family relocations to Fayetteville. But the group said Thursday the summer schedule— and the bits of down time carved out the past couple of weeks — has only added to their anticipation for preseason practice.

Football time is right around the corner with Arkansas scheduled to report for preseason camp on Aug. 4 and practices starting Aug. 5. It begins a three-week stretch that will culminate in the opener against Louisiana-Lafayette on Aug. 31.

So Arkansas coach Bret Bielema and his staff made it clear before Thursday’s golf scramble at Paradise Valley, they’re eager to get back to work on the field.

“It’s been a different kind of busy,” Bielema said about his summer, which has been loaded with speaking engagements and appearances. “But it’s about to get busy in a way I really, really like here on Aug. 4 and that I’m looking forward to.”

Bielema said the onus is on the coaches to “get guys in position to have a great year” after last season’s struggles. They’ll aim to do so with a group that enters the preseason without much notoriety after enduring a 4-8 season in 2012.

But Bielema said at SEC Media Days the “lower the better” when it came to preseason predictions for the Razorbacks. His assistants echoed those sentiments Thursday, confident it will only serve as fuel for everyone when practice begins.

“You’re motivated because you have a hungry bunch of kids,” offensive coordinator Jim Chaney said. “People point out ‘well, they picked you here, they picked you there,’ well, I don’t pay any attention to that crap. I’m motivated because we have a bunch of kids that are hungry to play football. That’s the key, so we’ll be just fine.”

Chaney and the rest of the Razorbacks know plenty of growth must take place in August to make the fall successful, though.

It starts with quarterback Brandon Allen and how well he adjusts to his new role after securing the starting job with a solid spring. The offense is undergoing a philosophical shift to a run-first attack, too, leaving plenty of questions along an offensive line that struggled in 2012 and a backfield lacking experienced players.

The same can be said defensively, where Arkansas feels good about its talent on the defensive line and at safety. There is so much to sort out elsewhere — especially at linebacker — and developing depth remains an important preseason goal for a team that has much bigger plans for itself in 2012.

“I know coaches, players, head coach, nobody expects to finish where that is at,” Bielema said of the low expectations. “I think as a staff we kind of are enjoying the underdog and no one expects a lot of things. But the neat time I think for an assistant coach in your life is right now. This is your chance to shine.”

The good news: Defensive coordinator Chris Ash said Arkansas made plenty of progress during 15 practices in the spring. So he’s confident the growth will continue this preseason and is eager to see what they can accomplish in August. “You talk to any football coach around the country right now, I doubt you’re going to run into too many that say they’re not excited to get going,” Ash said. “If you do, there’s probably a problem. We are excited as new coaches with new players; we’re excited to see the progress they made in the off-season since spring practice.

“What kind of improvement are we going to see in fall training camp? We hope when we come back there’s good retention and we can pick up where we left off, and just continue that process of improving every day.”

Arkansas still has more than a week remaining until practices begin, leaving a little more time for preparation and anticipation for practices.

It won’t be long, though, before the Razorbacks finally step out on the practice field and the coaches are eager to dive in after a long summer.

“It was a great down time because you had a chance to concentrate on your family, visit everyone, things like that,” Arkansas cornerbacks coach Taver Johnson said. “Once August hits, you’ve got to be ready to go. We’re all excited. We’re all fired up.”

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