Off The Hook Sports kicks off its 2022 Tennessee football preseason preview on the top 25 impact players for the Vols this upcoming season.
Coming in at No. 24 on the list is junior defensive back Doneiko Slaughter.
Defensive back Doneiko Slaughter has quietly had a pair of solid seasons in Tennessee’s struggling secondary. Still, neither scream a guaranteed starting role. That may change. In his junior season on Rocky Top, the pieces are in place for a breakout year.
Slaughter, a former three-star prospect out of Roswell, Georgia, had an excellent freshman campaign before taking a half-step back in 2021. Now Slaughter has a legitimate chance to contribute right away for a defensive secondary with multiple NFL departures and known injury problems.
Like seemingly every player in Tennessee’s secondary, Slaughter faced some injury problems midseason. He missed two weeks against South Carolina and Ole Miss after leaving early against Mizzou.
Slaughter recorded 16 tackles, three for a loss and one sack in his 11 appearances as a sophomore. He ramped up the intensity against one of the SEC’s top team, collecting three tackles and a tackle for loss against Alabama.
Former Vols head coach Jeremy Pruitt experimented Slaughter as a freshman. It must have worked. He was the only first-year player to make a legitimate impact on a defense that struggled mightily in 2020. Slaughter is still chasing his first career interception in 21 appearances donning the Orange & White.
Slaughter presents more than just a top-25 football name for the Vols this upcoming season. There are many ways the 6-foot, 190-pound defensive back can see playing time this fall.
Most of Slaughter’s production in 2021 came at the star position, which was mainly covered by Theo Jackson. Slaughter surprised his freshman year by shining at the nickel despite being a true safety recruit under Jeremy Pruitt. The most important thing for Slaughter now is learning Tim Banks’ scheme.
The star position requires an elite athlete. Both he and sophomore corner Christian Charles took reps as an hybrid back last season alongside Jackson, but keep a lookout for Alabama transfer Brandon Turnage to make a run for the open spot as well.
The next open position is at cornerback opposite senior Warren Burrell, a position that seems the most unlikely for an athlete of Slaughter’s skillset. It would be a surprise for Slaughter to beat out the likes of Kamal Hadden, Charles, Turnage or even Ohio State transfer Andre Turrentine in this regard. Throw wild card junior college transfer Desmond Williams into the mix and the water proves murkier still.
Tennessee’s secondary has the exact opposite problem of the wide receiver corps. The Vols are going to hum offensively because of the seeming limitless options at receiver. Bru McCoy doesn’t pan out? Here are a couple of high potential sophomore candidates in Jimmy Holiday and Jimmy Calloway. Don’t even mention the high-upside freshmen such as Kaleb Webb and Squirrel White.
At the top of the secondary lie veterans Trevon Flowers, Jaylen McCollough and Warren Burrell. None will light the world on fire, but each will play their roles well. The Vols desperately need one of Slaughter, Turnage, Hadden, Charles and company to turn up the heat. Slaughter has shown that fire before, and is perhaps the most versatile member of the aforementioned.
It’s a lot of talk. Let’s see what he can do in the fall.
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Secondary coach Willie Martinez noted in spring practice that Slaughter has been working on perfecting the new defensive scheme from the coaching transition between his freshman and sophomore year.
“I think with his knowledge of our scheme, he is one of those guys that can play all five (positions in the secondary),” Martinez said. “(Slaughter) is growing. He is more involved, more vocal in meetings and more vocal on the field.”
In an environment such as the secondary right now, leadership is an important quality. Alontae Taylor was known among his peers as a leader. As Slaughter transitions to being an upperclassman, that’s the burden that follows.
It’s interesting to see this change from a player that hasn’t started since the last coaching regime. Slaughter has waited his turn and performed adequately in his opportunities.
Perhaps more interesting from Martinez’s report was Slaughter’s ability to play all five positions in the secondary. It’s tough to keep beating this dead horse, but the Vols’ secondary is in for a world of trouble at the first sign of injury in the defensive backfield this season. Slaughter’s versatility as a true safety, his experience at the star and athletic ability to hold his own at cornerback make him a noteworthy option this fall.