SPRING PREVIEW 2023 – LINEBACKERS
ATHENS — Jamon Dumas-Johnson and Smael Mondon Jr. grew up 700 miles and an 11-hour drive apart. But since they’ve been at Georgia, the two linebackers couldn’t be much closer, on the field or off.
Manning the middle of the Bulldogs’ defense last season, their job is to snatch down any ball carrier who happened to slip through Georgia’s formidable front. Occasionally, when the opposition was least expecting it, one or the other would shoot through a gap and blitz the quarterback. Though manning separate positions, the two linebackers worked in tandem as if one entity.
They didn’t win every battle, but they won most. And the fact that they’re back bodes well for the Bulldogs.
“When me and Smael are on the field, we know what each other is doing,” said Dumas-Johnson, aka “Pop,” who hails from Hyattsville, Maryland, a suburb of Washington. “We don’t even have to talk or say anything. I give him a look, he gives me a look, and we know what we’re going to do.”
Said Mondon, who is from Paulding County: “I remember seeing him in one of the first 7-on-7s after he got here, and he caught a pick. When I saw that, I knew he was good. After that, I just kept seeing him flash, and now he’s the player he is.”
It was Dumas-Johnson and Mondon, mostly, who were charged with replacing the irreplaceable after Nakobe Dean, Quay Walker and Channing Tindall moved onto the NFL before last season. They answered that call with exclamation points, leading the Bulldogs with a combined 146 tackles, five sacks, 17 tackles for loss and 49 quarterback hurries.
Mondon missed two games with injuries, and Dumas-Johnson basically played the final third of the season “banged up.” But they always were present on Saturdays.
“It’s the SEC, so nobody is 100 percent after the first game,” said Mondon, who led the team in tackles behind the line of scrimmage. “We spend a lot of time in the ice tub.”
Mondon and Dumas-Johnson handled most of the defensive snaps inside because their backups, Rian “Trouble” Davis and Trezmen Marshall, both battled more serious injuries. Davis’ healthy return will help bolster the middle of the defense in 2023, while Marshall, somewhat surprisingly, transferred to Alabama.
But the Bulldogs are stacked besides them. Xavian Sorey and E.J. Lightsey are back, and Lightsey is fully healthy and ready to show his wares after a redshirt season. Unknown as yet is how much C.J. Washington, who suffered a serious neck injury as a freshman last season, might be able to contribute.
There are more questions, but no less talent, at outside linebacker, where Georgia has to replace stalwarts Nolan Smith and Robert Beal. But inside the tackle box, the Bulldogs have to feel great to know Dumas-Johnson and Mondon are back to man the middle.
“I feel like we’re just as hungry,” Mondon said of returning for a second national title defense. “We’re not going to be complacent.”
- Returning starters (2): ILB Jamon Dumas-Johnson (6-foot-1, 245, Jr.), Smael Mondon Jr. (6-3, 220, Jr.)
- Starters lost (2): OLB Robert Beal, OLB Nolan Smith
- All eyes on: Jalon Walker (6-2, 225, So.) and Marvin Jones Jr. (6-5, 250, So.)
- Outlook: It cannot be overstated how important it was for the Bulldogs to have Beal as a sixth-year senior last season. Already a regular in the lineup, he stepped up big time at the Jack outside linebacker position when Smith was lost for the season to pectoral muscle tear at the midway point. Now he and Smith have moved on to the NFL, and Smith’s incredible showing at the NFL combine demonstrated what an incredible athlete Georgia had at outside linebacker the past four seasons. So, the future is now this spring. As usual, the Bulldogs are loaded at the position. Rising sophomores Walker and Jones got a ton of experience, playing in all but one game between them and are expected in a rotation that will include rising junior Chaz Chambiss. Walker continues to cross-train at inside linebacker as well. Touted freshmen inside linebackers C.J. Allen and Raylen Wilson will be on hand to learn the ropes in spring behind the starters, Xavian Sorey and the other returnees. Once again, both inside and outside linebacker appear to be positions of strength for the Bulldogs.
- Up next: Receivers
This is part five of an eight-part series breaking down each position group as the two-time defending national champion Georgia Bulldogs get ready to start spring practice March 14. The Bulldogs will conduct 15 practices over 32 days, culminating with the annual G-Day spring intrasquad game April 15 at Sanford Stadium.
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