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Southeastern Louisiana head coach Ron Roberts. (Associated Press)<br>

Southeastern Louisiana head coach Ron Roberts. (Associated Press)

Roberts trying to get SLU Lions back on track

Last Modified: Wednesday, September 19, 2012 10:19 PM

By Alex Hickey / American Press

Ron Roberts takes his rebirths seriously.

Southeastern Louisiana’s new head coach is trying to turn things around for the Lions following back-to-back losing seasons, and it begins with the very look of the team on the field.

SLU ditched its green helmets this season for yellow ones — “gold” in football parlance, of course — that give the team more of a Green Bay Packers vibe visually.

It hasn’t paid off just yet as Roberts is still looking for his first win, but the greater point is that it’s going to take a series of little differences to get the Lions where he wants them to be.

“If we can change our socks, shoestrings, whatever we can do,” Roberts said. “I like the way it looked with the gold helmets. It’s not helping us right now, but this is a rebirth for us.”

SLU last wore a gold helmet and uniform pants in the early 1980s.

A wardrobe change may seem trite, but Roberts’ history seems to indicate he knows what he’s doing. In five years at Division II Delta State, Roberts never had a losing season and made the playoffs four times. The Fighting Okra were national runners-up in 2010 and semifinalists in 2011.

That championship-caliber attitude hasn’t made its way to Hammond just yet.

“The biggest challenge is mental approach. Trying to get the team to practice the way we want to practice,” Roberts said. “We’re not there. It’s the attitude that you show up and expect to win. It’s not there. You have to practice that over and over.

“You can’t wave the magic wand on Saturday and those mistakes will suddenly be gone. They’re not. The toughest thing is changing the mindset and attitude. We’re in the process of changing the mindset.”

The Lions have had a tough schedule on their road to changing things, serving as fodder for Missouri in its SEC debut before playing a pair of potential Championship Subdivision playoff teams in South Dakota State and Tennessee-Martin.

The No. 19 Cowboys (3-0) don’t promise to make things any easier.

“I’m going to tell Coach Viator the game starts at 9 and maybe he’ll show up late,” Roberts joked. “We can’t worry about (our opponents) until we worry about our own mistakes. This game is still about us. We have to execute offensively and defensively so it actually resemebles our offense and defense. It’s a simple game. It’s about blocking and tackling. We have to do that better than we have been.”

The Lions are playing a 3-4 base defense this year, moving former defensive end Devan Walker into what Matt Viator calls “the James Harrison role” at outside linebacker, referring to the Pittsburgh Steelers standout.

It creates a formidable pass-rushing scheme, but the Lions are currently last in the Southland against the run, allowing 244.7 yards per game.

On the other side of the ball, the aerial game is also trumping the ground game early in the year. Quarterback Nathan Stanley is third in the conference with an average of 225 yards per game, but SLU is averaging a paltry 1.2 yards per carry on the ground.

“Our quarterback has played well,” Roberts said. “We have to get some execution and help around him.”

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