BY DREW CHAMPLIN | email@example.com
TROY – Troy defensive end Tyler Roberts’ hair and beard is growing like NFL star linebacker Clay Matthews of the Green Bay Packers.
On the field this season, expect the redshirt freshman from Hoover to make some plays like Matthews does as well.
Roberts, who is 6-foot-1 and 225 pounds, is pushing fifth-year senior Jacoby Thomas at the bandit position as the Trojans prepare for the Sept. 1 season opener at UAB.
“He’s breathing down his neck right now,” defensive line coach Randy Butler said. “He’s going to play a lot and probably play just as much. I expect them to battle the whole season.”
Roberts had a storied career at Hoover High School, perhaps the top football program in the state. The regimen and intense practices prepared him for the college level, and he’s prepared to go back to work after sitting out last year as a redshirt.
Who could blame him? As a senior, Roberts had 107 tackles, 14 sacks, 11 tackles for loss and 37 quarterback pressures, according to the Birmingham News. That same newspaper named him the Hoover Zone Player of the Year.
“I’m ready to play,” Roberts said. “I redshirted last year and it bothered me sitting out and not getting to play. I didn’t like sitting in the stands.”
Roberts was playing linebacker last season, but when Troy switched things up on defense and implemented the bandit end position, Roberts was a natural fit. He did the same work at Hoover, playing defensive end but shifting to a hybrid rush/cover end when the situation called for it.
“He does some things that you’d like to say you coach,” Butler said. “He can rush the passer. He plays with great leverage and he’s been taught well. He comes from a great program and he’s been taught well. He’s just got that ‘it’ factor.”
Roberts used to keep his hair in a buzz cut, but just started growing it out for no particular reason. He said he has heard the comparisons to Matthews, but is focused on improving each day on the practice field.
“I feel like it’s going good,” Roberts said. “I’m learning a lot playing behind these guys and challenging myself when I get in there. Jacoby’s pushing me and I’m pushing him. We’re both making each other better and both learning from each other.”
Roberts also listed an exhaustive list of injuries – broken toes, wrist, hand, a broken femur and collapsed lung as a result of a four-wheeler accident when he was a kid – as stuff he’s had to overcome. He certainly plays with a reckless abandon on the field, and Butler thinks he’ll be even better if he can put on more weight.
“We’d like to have him about 235 (pounds), but he’s effective at 225,” Butler said. “When he gets a little bigger and stronger, he’s just going to be that much better.”