Tray Matthews has heard ever since last season ended about how Auburn had a top-10 defense in 2016. About how much that defense improved in its first year under coordinator Kevin Steele.

All of that is good, the senior safety said last week at SEC Media Days in Hoover. But it also no longer means much of anything.

“We did some great things last year, but that was last year,” Matthews said. “We can’t worry about things that happened in the past. We’re focused on the future.”

Steele’s first defense on the Plains was the best Auburn has had in 10 years dating to 2007. The Tigers’ mark of 361.9 yards per game allowed ranked 28th nationally, which was up from 71st in 2015. Their mark of 17.1 points per game allowed ranked seventh nationally, which was up from 45th in 2015.

Matthews expects more in 2017.

“Our defense will be aggressive. We’ll be physical, we’ll be fast and we will be hungry,” Matthews said. “We’re a very good team. We want to be great. We have the components to do that. We have the culture to get that done.”

He knows there are areas the defense can improve, too. Auburn’s ranked 88th nationally with 17 turnovers forced and scored only one defensive touchdown — Montravius Adams’ 13-yard fumble return at Mississippi State on Oct. 8 — in 13 games. Matthews said Steele emphasized both during the spring and summer.

The Tigers have to replace a number of talented pieces — Adams and Carl Lawson on the defensive line and Josh Holsey and Rudy Ford in the secondary — but they also return seven starters from last year’s breakout unit.

“I really like where our defense is right now. They're so much further ahead,” coach Gus Malzahn said. “They had that edge, they had that confidence, and I think we've got a chance to be really good on defense.”

Last year, sitting in the same third-floor suite at The Wynfrey Hotel he was Thursday, Malzahn said he thought the 2016 Tigers had a chance to have “one of the better defenses we’ve had since I’ve been here.” Back then, Auburn was coming off a 2015 campaign during which it ranked as one of the worst defenses in the SEC.

This year, given the 2016 success, any claim that Auburn will “be really good on defense” isn’t nearly so hard to believe.

In fact, it’s become the expectation.

“I believe we will perform up to expectations,” Matthews said. “We’re not buying into the hype, and we’re not thinking about any of that other stuff in the news. We’re ready to play football.”