ATHENS — Smael Mondon didn’t need spring practice last year to help him become Georgia’s leading tackler. He was held out due to shoulder surgery but still was able to turn it on during the fall.

Mondon started 13 games for Georgia, finishing with a team-best 76 tackles. Mondon added 8.0 tackles for loss, a sack and an interception in his first season as a starter.

Now that he’s able to practice and participate in a meaningful way, Mondon is looking to build off the foundation he laid last fall.

“I think it’s going to help a lot because you only really get better getting reps and experience, you know, more experience in practice,” Mondon said. “So getting more reps — extra reps and the scrimmages we’re about to have, it feels like it’s going to help a lot.”

Mondon and teammate Jamon Dumas-Johnson had massive shoes to fill after Nakobe Dean, Quay Walker and Channing Tindall all left for the NFL. Neither Mondon or Dumas-Johnson had started a game for the Bulldogs prior to last season.

Both linebackers now return for their junior seasons, as they signed in the 2021 signing class. Mondon recognizes that both he and Dumas-Johnson, who finished second on the team in tackles last season, still have room to grow.

A terrifying thought for opposing offenses.

“I still feel like we’ve got a lot left to show,” Mondon said. “You know, we’ve got a lot of room to grow still. We’re not really complacent or stuck on last season. We know we’ve still got a lot of room for improvement, so really just working on things like that.”

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Mondon is the more athletic of the two linebackers, as he stands at 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds. He’s spent much of the offseason trying to bulk up in an effort to put on weight he lost during the 2022 season.

It’s not the only area Mondon has spent the offseason trying to improve though. The junior from Dallas, Ga., has spent Georgia’s first six spring practices trying to improve in other areas of his game as well.

“Me individually, kind of trying to work on my block shedding and working on playing with my hands better,” Mondon said. “That’s one of the main things I’ve been focusing on.”

To best understand Mondon’s upside, you should consider the case of Trezmen Marshall. The former Georgia linebacker was a rotational player for the Bulldogs and someone who would’ve been a contributor on the 2023 team had he elected to stay in the program.

But Marshall saw that Mondon and Dumas-Johnson were only going to continue getting better, making it even harder to see the field. So Marshall ended up transferring to Alabama in order to find more playing time.

Georgia has consistently gotten elite linebacker play since Kirby Smart became the team’s head coach. Roquan Smith and Dean both won the Butkus Award, given to the nation’s top linebacker.

If Mondon and Dumas-Johnson continue to improve, as both did over the course of the 2022 season, Georgia could very well add a third Butkus Trophy to its trophy cabinets.

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