When Deonte Roberts looks back at his 2016 season, his first feeling is frustration. Dissatisfied with his performance as a full-time starting linebacker, Roberts put on a fresh coat of paint for a new day in 2017.
Roberts went back to his roots with a move to the uniform No. 6. More importantly, he improved his numbers in the weight room drastically, he said.
“It's more of a mental thing,” Roberts said. “I'm just stepping up my leadership. I'm bringing more vocal leadership to the unit, to my team. My numbers in the weight room, I'm improving myself overall. I'm being better as an individual.”
Roberts often watches his film from last season. He uses it as motivation, separating himself from the pack as one of the few healthy, experienced linebackers on the field.
“I turned on the film (and) I didn't like what I saw,” Roberts said. “It was a lot of things I wanted to change about myself – being more physical, trusting my speed and instincts. I know I'm a great football player, and I've got to play that way. That was a lot that I carried on in the offseason.”
Roberts was the only linebacker with 12 starts last season. He finished second with 95 tackles on a defense that gave up 262.4 rushing yards per game.
“He's done a great job,” said defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Jay Niemann. “You can ask a number of coaches, any of the strength coaches, coach (Chris) Ash, myself, anybody who has had any kind of pulse on it. He probably had one of the best offseasons of any player on our football team. That's translating over to production on the field in spring practice.
“He's just busted his tail and had a great attitude. I think he realized with his own play as well as the quality of where we were defensively at the end of the season, it wasn't where we wanted it or needed it to be. He's gone to extreme measures on his part to push in the right direction and get things going. I can't say enough good things about all of the hard work he's put in.”
Roberts begins spring as a first-team linebacker and vocal leader for an injury-plagued position group.
“What I'm trying to change is to be a better football player overall,” he said. “Knowing when things are coming in different schemes, knowing the defense inside and out, knowing my game plan and who I'm playing against, I'm finding tenancies that can help me out.”