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'Our standards are very high' - Auburn senior safeties Tray Matthews, Stephen Roberts
Stephen Roberts has three tackles for loss in Auburn's first two games. Photo: Anthony Hall/Auburn Athletics
Sept. 13, 2017

By Jeff Shearer

AUBURN, Ala. - At 5-foot-11, 189 pounds, Stephen Roberts may not be the first Auburn Tiger who comes to mind when one thinks of wreaking havoc in opponents' backfields.

But twice in Auburn's season opener against Georgia Southern, and again at Clemson, No. 14 sneaked up from his strong safety position to make tackles behind the line of scrimmage.

"It has something to do with just being confident in the game and knowing my job and what I'm supposed to do," Roberts said. "So that's just my responsibility."

Roberts and Tray Matthews provide Auburn's secondary with a pair of senior safeties, seasoned returning starters who have been there and done that.

"It makes us very versatile, doing different things in the running and passing game," said Matthews, who at 6-1, 209, is two inches taller and 20 pounds heavier than Roberts. "Especially with the size difference between me and him, so it's a lot to look forward to in the future."

When Roberts creeps up, Matthews, who led Auburn in tackles last season, stays back in case of a pass.

"I've been very impressed with him," Matthews said. "We've been trying to do some things differently this year. I let him come close to the line of scrimmage on different plays."

<em> Stephen Roberts made two TFLs in Auburn's season opener against Georgia Southern.</em>
Stephen Roberts made two TFLs in Auburn's season opener against Georgia Southern.

Auburn's defense, which ranked No. 7 nationally last season while allowing 17.1 points per game, has been even stingier so far in 2017, surrendering 10.5 points per game.

"Our standards are very high on defense," said Roberts, who is also a punt return weapon with a 25-yard return against Clemson and a 58-yarder in last season's Iron Bowl. "That's one thing that we've improved on the most, just finishing games."

Auburn's defensive backs benefit from a strong pass rush. The Tigers rank No. 1 in the SEC with 10 sacks.

"It can help the secondary a whole lot," Roberts said. "You don't have to cover for that long. Give credit to our D-line, they work every day. Coach G [associate head coach Rodney Garner] gets those guys right. I love those guys to death."

"They're helping us out tremendously," Matthews said. "Got a lot of great guys up front."

Stability on defense, with coordinator Kevin Steele in his second season, gave the Tigers a head start this season, Matthews said.

"We all have been playing better than we did last year because Coach Steele holds us to a higher standard," Matthews said. "He never lets us get too confident or lets us get too high on ourselves. He always makes us get better and points out different little things we need to improve on."

Roberts grew up a few miles from Jordan-Hare Stadium, in neighboring Opelika, Ala. Matthews, from nearby Newnan, Ga., took a detour before coming to the Plains.

"I love Auburn," said Matthews, who transferred after his freshman season at Georgia. "It's been so good to me. I'm just in a happy place right now.

"It's all worked out. It's a dream come true, and I already knew it was going to be like a fairy tale. You start good, it kind of gets a little tricky in the middle, then you ride off in the sunset. That's what I'm hoping for."

<em> Auburn's leading tackler in 2016, Tray Matthews hopes for a fairy tale ending to his Auburn career.</em>
Auburn's leading tackler in 2016, Tray Matthews hopes for a fairy tale ending to his Auburn career.

Jeff Shearer is a Senior Writer at Follow him on Twitter:

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