Auburn, Ala. — Hard-hitting safety Tray Matthews expects to add some “boom” to Auburn’s defense. Cornerback Blake Countess, meanwhile, brings versatility and the experience that comes with starting 30 games for Michigan.
The transfers both are expected to make big impacts on a secondary that has been regarded as a weakness for the sixth-ranked Tigers in recent seasons.
“They’re going to have to make an impact,” secondary coach Travaris Robinson said. “Those are guys we’re counting on. They’re really good football players and really good people. They’re tough and they’re about all the stuff we’re about around here.”
They’ll help shore up a secondary that also includes preseason All-Southeastern Conference cornerback Jonathan Jones and leading tackler Johnathan Ford. Auburn, which opens Sept. 5 against Louisville in the Georgia Dome, had to replace three defensive backs who played significant roles last season.
Matthews sat out last season under NCAA transfer rules and is expected to start next to Ford. He was dismissed from Georgia for violating team rules after starting six games as a freshman — making 12 tackles against the Tigers, in fact.
Countess is a graduate transfer who left Michigan after going through the first spring practices under new coach Jim Harbaugh.
“I think it was unexpected a little bit for him but I saw an opportunity and he had to respect it, and he did respect it,” Countess said. “It was a positive conversation. He didn’t want to see me go but he understood where I was coming from a little bit when I told him how I felt.”
Countess said he got along well with the new coaching staff “but I just felt like it was time for me to move on.”
Countess doesn’t speak negatively when asked for his impressions of Harbaugh.
“Passionate. Deep thinker,” Countess said. “He definitely knows football and loves football. He’s very enthusiastic about getting better every day.”
That could also describe Auburn defensive coordinator Will Muschamp. Muschamp heard Countess was planning to transfer and called Michigan coordinator D.J. Durkin, who held the same post for him at Florida.
“I called D.J. just to try and find out what kind of young man he was and D.J, had nothing but great things to say and felt like he just wanted a change,” Muschamp said. “Been through a coaching change and didn’t want to go through that situation there. Certainly D.J. signed off on him as well as you could sign off with anybody. And D.J. I trust, he’s like family to me.”
Muschamp contacted Countess, who visited Auburn with his mother. He found a “perfect fit” with an Auburn team that needed immediate help. Countess seems like a surefire starter after making six interceptions as a sophomore, though Auburn hasn’t released a depth chart.
Muschamp said he can play nickelback and could be Auburn’s third safety, and thinks he’ll be able to easily switch positions within games.
Both Countess and Matthews have joined most of the other defensive backs in bleaching their hair blond during the summer. They seem poised to fit in on the field, too.
Matthews missed some practice time to rest a sore hamstring but returned full-speed on Tuesday.
“I couldn’t really bring it these couple days, but now that I’m back, I’m going to be the one that’s bringing the boom every practice and every game,” he said.
Matthews gets to make his Auburn debut in his home state in a stadium where he has played in all-star games. Mainly, he said, “I’m just ready to play football again.”