Stephen Roberts doesn’t feel any different now that he’s a rising senior at Auburn.

But he has noticed a difference in how he’s treated.

“You kind of get more respect than you did as a freshman,” he said Tuesday. “I’ve been playing at this school for four years, so it’s kind of nice to be the older guy now.”

Roberts, an Opelika High product, is one of three “older guys” at safety for Auburn, joining fellow seniors Tray Matthews and Nick Ruffin at the top of the rotation. The Tigers will lean on those three heavily on the back end of the defense: With last year’s top reserve Markell Boston no longer with the program, the No. 4 player on the depth chart is former walk-on Michael Sherwood.

We’re very thin there,” defensive coordinator Kevin Steele said. “Very, very thin.”

What they lack in depth, though, they make up for in experience. All three have three have played three years in the SEC.

After serving a one-game suspension at the start of last year after being arrested during fall camp, Roberts returned to have the best season of his career, totaling 57 tackles, 1 ½ tackles for loss, two passes defended and two interceptions.

Matthews, a former Georgia transfer, also had a career year, leading the Tigers with 76 tackles and chipping in a tackle for loss, forced fumble, pass breakup and interception. Ruffin added 32 tackles, a tackle for loss and three passes defended as a reserve behind the two starters.

"It's great,” Matthews said of the veteran safety corps. “We all have great grasp on the scheme. We know everything that's going on. It'll be tremendous for the team. We can all step up and be leaders."

Even Sherwood is a senior. Though he’s recorded only five tackles in his career on special teams, the man they call “Dirty Mike” has earned solid reviews from teammates in early spring practices.

“He’s done really well. Dirty is a guy that brings energy. Anywhere he goes, he brings energy,” Roberts said. “He’s kind of a hype guy around here, but he can really play. He’s really smart, has great hips and speed as well.”

Roberts, Matthews, Ruffin and Sherwood will get some reinforcements in the fall. Steele said there are a number of young cornerbacks and nickel backs who could shift to safety once injured players like Jamel Dean and Jayvaughn Myers get healthy. Auburn will also add two three-star safety signees in Carlito Gonzalez and Jordyn Peters.

But for now, Roberts seems eager to take on the responsibility of being an older guy anchoring the back end of the defense.

“We ain’t got that much depth. So I mean, we just kind of have to work with what we have,” Roberts said. “We’re all together, so everybody is one on one. Got to be on time and focus on the things we need to do because we don’t have that much. We’re just trying to get the young guys to learn and know the plays and know their jobs so we can have depth.”