Forcing turnovers a priority for Jamon Dumas-Johnson, Georgia defense

Jamon Dumas-Johnson remembers his pick-six from last year’s win versus Alabama-Birmingham, but he doesn’t want to reflect on it too much.

“Every team should have the goal to take the ball away, and having that pick-six last year, I mean, it’s behind me,” Dumas-Johnson said Thursday, after Georgia’s preseason camp practice session. “I don’t look behind me. I look forward. So, I’m hoping to have one this season.”

ExploreMore AJC coverage of the Bulldogs

Pushing for more turnovers is a priority for the sophomore linebacker – who will step into an expanded role for Georgia this season – as well as the entire Bulldogs defense.

“I think it’s extremely important because why would you have one guy do it when you can have all 11 doing it?” Dumas-Johnson said of ball-hawking. “So, just to piggyback off of leadership, that’s one of them I would like to put to the table – just being vocal and sharing things that you can share to help the team get better, not just yourself. ... We’re emphasizing punch-outs and takeaways a lot this year. That’s one thing we’ll be working on this year.”

It’s a goal for Georgia’s defense, despite losing so many playmakers from last season’s national championship run (including eight starters, five of whom were drafted in the NFL’s first round). The Bulldogs finished with a plus-3 turnover margin, No. 49 in FBS.

Last season, Dumas-Johnson played in 14 games as a reserve linebacker, garnering significant experience behind starters Nakobe Dean and Quay Walker and plus reserve Channing Tindall (a trio that combined for 206 tackles).

Dumas-Johnson finished with 22 tackles, two sacks, 2.5 tackles for loss and one interception. One of his personal goals is to “keep the same Georgia standard” as if that group had never left.

During preseason camp, Dumas-Johnson has taken what he learned from the linebackers who came before him and is molding it into his own, he said. He focused on getting into the kind of shape where he doesn’t need to sub out of a game, where he doesn’t have to miss a snap because of getting tired.

He garnered praise from coach Kirby Smart, who said Dumas-Johnson has “probably been the most consistent guy” of the inside linebackers, consistency that Georgia certainly will need this season.

Defensive back Christopher Smith also bragged on Dumas-Johnson, or “Pop,” a nickname his mom gave him based on an old commercial he would always laugh at (“You gotta ask my momma,” Dumas-Johnson said when asked for more specifics).

“Pop, he’s an amazing person off the field,” Smith said. “That’s the first thing that stands out to me. Very strong-minded, very smart. We have a lot of good communication on the field. If there’s a mistake, he always talks to me, and that’s the main thing that stands out to me about Pop. Very smart, good at recognizing plays and good at bringing others together. He comes with a lot of energy, and it’s really great to have him on the defense for sure. … Pop is definitely a leader. He got some playing time last year, a lot of good experience.”

Smith also spoke on the “havoc” Georgia’s defense wants to create, defined as at least 20% of its plays including a tackle for a loss, a pass breakup, an interception or a forced fumble.

It may seem like a lofty goal, with so many high-volume players from last season’s team gone, but Dumas-Johnson is ready to step up on the defense, if that’s what’s asked of him.

“I appreciate them guys that think I can do it,” Dumas-Johnson said. “And I believe in myself that I can do it, and I’m ready for the challenge. … I think those guys (former teammates) did a perfect job of preparing me and the other guys to step up and take on leadership on the team as inside ‘backers. Once you get that one year under your belt, you should be good. As long as you’re locked in your first year, learn the concepts and learn what you need to learn, you should be good for your second year.”