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Tennessee Football: What to make of De’Shawn Rucker, Tamarion McDonald joining list of Vols DBs in transfer portal

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Now there are six. Tennessee Football has six defensive backs in the transfer portal, as De’Shawn Rucker and Tamarion McDonald joined the growing list Monday afternoon. They join Doneiko Slaughter, Brandon Turnage, Warren Burrell and Jack Luttrell.

Slaughter entered the portal last Friday on the same day that Tyler Baron entered the portal and 2024 tight end Jonathan Echols flipped his commitment from the Vols to the South Florida Bulls. Rucker announced his portal entry on Twitter, and Matt Zenitz of 247Sports broke the news of McDonald.

Slaughter and McDonald were major contributors last year, and with Burrell having been a starter in the past and the Vols also losing Jaylen McCollough and Kamal Hadden due to both running out of eligibility, they have lost five rotational players from 2023. This makes eight players gone overall.

What’s driving this mass exodus of defensive backs? There are only a few factors that could be behind it. The first and simplest explanation could be NIL money. Baron did like a tweet in November slamming UT for Nico Iamaleava receiving so much over anybody else.

Then there’s Willie Martinez. Rocky Top’s defensive backs coach was very obviously hired as a recruiter and is the only staff member who doesn’t have a year remaining on his contract. However, since he’s a recruiter, and since Iamaleava is a quarterback, neither of these reasons make too much sense.

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Did they get offers from bigger schools? Is Josh Heupel fostering a culture not conducive to defensive backs, particularly with his system? Either one of those could be true, but none of these guys played well enough to receive better offers elsewhere.

The most likely reason remains the reason Slaughter hit the portal. Tennessee Football is high on its young and incoming defensive backs. Jordan Matthews and Rickey Gibson III are highly touted freshmen about to take a huge leap forward. Gabe Jeudy-Lally is a reliable rotational player.

That could lock down all three cornerback/nickel positions next year and doesn’t even include the four new defensive backs in this upcoming recruiting class. At safety Wesley Walker is returning, and while McCollough is gone, Boo Carter is arriving. Christian Harrison and Jourdan Thomas are there too.

Simply put, the most likely option is Tennessee Football is just going to be better in the secondary next year with the development of other players, and these players saw the writing on the wall. Martinez would be the second most likely factor.

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