AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn senior safety Tray Matthews sees a lot of himself when he looks at newcomer Traivon Leonard.
“He’s feisty and he’s aggressive,” Matthews said at SEC Media Days. “And you can tell he loves ball because he’s come up there watching film already. He kind of reminds me of myself.”
That’s high praise from a respected team leader and the proclaimed “CEO” of the Tigers defense. Matthews didn’t know much about Leonard’s unique upbringing as the signee transitioned onto campus this summer, but one thing was evident from the start.
“I like him,” Matthews said. “He’s a ball player. I’m getting to know more and more about him each and every day, especially as we practice and work out together and stuff.”
Auburn’s defense and coaching staff will continue familiarizing themselves with Leonard and other freshmen as the Tigers go through fall camp this month.
On Day 1 of preseason practices on Monday, the most significant news was that of senior Jason Smith’s position change from wide receiver to defensive back and the departure of beloved “Dirty” Mike Sherwood. Sherwood, a former walk-on, provided much-needed depth for the thinned-out safety group.
Fortunately, Auburn’s senior safeties have liked the skill and intensity their new teammates have demonstrated early.
“They are looking real good,” Matthews said. “They’re very competitive and we’re kind of changing the culture around that. That shows what we’re doing. They’re trying to play up to our level.”
After Auburn finished tied for sixth nationally in passes defended in Kevin Steele’s first season as defensive coordinator last year, a drop-off in 2017 won’t be acceptable. To prevent that, the Tigers need their inexperienced DBs to grow up quickly.
“Traivon Leonard, T.D. Moultry, pretty much all the freshmen, to be honest with you,” Matthews said. “They look pretty good. [Traivon] has been at corner. He reminds me of Carlton [Davis]. Jordyn Peters has been looking very good. … He’s picking up on things so quick, I’m excited to see what he’ll do in the future.”