The Auburn Tigers began spring practice on March 27 in search of a championship squad in the first year under new head coach Gus Malzahn.
The most obvious change year over year has been the speed at which practice is conducted and some of the names that are becoming prevalent during drills and in interviews.
Auburn has recruited with the best over the past few seasons, but the program has been unable to develop players into the system. That appears to be changing with this new coaching staff, and so far, there are three players that are stepping into position to become rising stars this fall.
As spring continues, these are the three names that are underrated stars heading into the new year.
Corey Grant, Running Back
Corey Grant was a walk-on just a year ago for the Tigers after transferring from Alabama. He was originally from the Tigers' backyard coming from Opelika High School in Alabama, but he chose the Tide over the Tigers on signing day.
Grant is now entering his second year with the Tigers and is challenging for starting snaps at running back.
Last year, he seemed to have become a forgotten commodity in the offensive disaster that fell over the program, but the Malzahn offense looks for multiple backs to contribute on a regular basis.
This will be the year that Grant becomes the hometown star for the Tigers. He has the speed to fill in for the now departed Onterio McCalebb, and he is durable enough to handle the every down role for the team.
Watch Grant rise up the depth chart quickly this spring as he gets his first shot in the Malzahn offense.
Jonathan Jones, Cornerback
Jonathan Jones was a 3-star (via 247Sports) out of high school that was expected to be a redshirt for the Tigers last season.
After injuries forced him into play, Jones proved to be a solid commodity for Auburn on special teams and eventually worked his way into playing time for the Tigers in the secondary.
Joshua Holsey got the most press of the freshmen corners, but Jones was just as effective for the Tigers and will be in the rotation this fall when the Tigers take the field. This spring is his proving ground to show why he belongs.
He has picked up six pounds this offseason (via War Eagle Extra) and will continue to gain this summer. Jones is a headhunter at corner that will become a star for this Tigers secondary.
Melvin Ray, Receiver
Melvin Ray is more of an unknown than an underrated star for the Tigers this spring.
Ray was a playing professional baseball up until the summer of 2012 when he enrolled at Auburn and joined the football program as a walk-on (via al.com).
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He signed with Alabama out of high school during the 2008 recruiting period. Ray was rated a 4-star (via Rivals) and the No. 111 player in the country that year. He chose to take a swing at baseball, but has since returned to college to earn a degree and play football.
Last fall was a readjustment period for Ray, and entering this spring, he is ready to make an impact. The Tigers are searching for stars on the outside, and his maturity and size—he is 6’3”, 218 pounds—is something that makes him an early favorite to become a rising star.
Look for Ray to become a solid contributor this fall as he moves into playing rotation for Auburn.