Slaughter ‘through the roof' confident as Vols’ cornerback

Tennessee Athletics photo / Tennessee cornerback Doneiko Slaughter (0) celebrates a stop during the 31-14 victory over Clemson in last December's Orange Bowl.
Tennessee Athletics photo / Tennessee cornerback Doneiko Slaughter (0) celebrates a stop during the 31-14 victory over Clemson in last December's Orange Bowl.

A player with momentum and versatility?

Tennessee senior cornerback Doneiko Slaughter is offering both as the Volunteers near the finish line of spring football practice.

The 6-foot, 190-pounder from the Atlanta suburb of Roswell has played the safety and "star" positions for most of his career in Knoxville, but that changed last October when he was moved to corner. Though there were adjustments to be made, Slaughter certainly looked the part when he racked up five tackles and broke up three passes during the 31-14 Orange Bowl win over Clemson.

"I think I would have confidence in any position I was playing, but going into the Orange Bowl, I felt like I had to make a statement," Slaughter said in a recent news conference. "Since that game, my confidence has been through the roof. I know my ability to make plays."

The Vols returned from having Easter weekend off and tweaked their schedule to where they will work Tuesday morning and Thursday morning before Saturday afternoon's Orange & White game.

Slaughter made a splash in 2020, becoming the only true freshman to start Tennessee's opening 31-27 victory at South Carolina. He played at star that game and tallied three tackles and a sack, but that would be his only start of the COVID-altered season.

The 2021 season, which was Josh Heupel's first as coach after replacing Jeremy Pruitt, did not yield any starts for Slaughter, who appeared in 11 of 13 games and amassed 16 tackles and three tackles for loss, which included a sack. He made his first career start at safety in last year's historic triumph over Alabama, setting a career-high with eight tackles, and he started at safety the next week against UT Martin before the switch occurred.

"When we went down with some injuries before the Kentucky game, he didn't bat an eye," Tennessee secondary coach Willie Martinez said. "He had not played corner other than a couple of snaps last spring. We all saw how he played and how he played moving forward.

"He's a playmaker. He's someone who's proven it, and he's had a good spring being locked in on playing corner."

Slaughter helped the Vols hold heralded Kentucky quarterback Will Levis to 98 passing yards and provided one of the top defensive highlights of the year, applying a hit before halftime on Wildcats receiver Dane Key that resulted in a red-zone interception for linebacker Juwan Mitchell. His fumble recovery two weeks later against Missouri extended Tennessee's streak to 12 consecutive contests with at least one takeaway.

He would finish last season with 31 tackles and with six pass breakups, matching Tamarion McDonald for the team-high in that category, and he is certainly a favorite for a top cornerback spot amid a secondary that has nine returning players with starting experience.

"It grew on me like you would expect it to," Slaughter said. "I've fallen in love with the corner position, and I feel like the boundary corner is more physical now."

Said Martinez: "He's doing a really good job. He's all in, and we love versatility in our defensive backs. That's what we want."

Ginther commits

The Vols are up to eight commitments for the 2024 signing cycle after receiving a nonbinding pledge from Gage Ginther, a three-star offensive lineman from Fort Collins, Colorado. The 6-6, 287-pounder is the No. 52 interior offensive lineman and the No. 754 overall prospect on the 247Sports.com composite rankings.

Ginther selected Tennessee over early scholarship offers from Oklahoma, Oregon, Penn State and Southern California.

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com.