Marvin Jones Jr. reflects on his freshman season, why offseason will be crucial for UGA pass rusher

Georgia Bulldogs linebacker Marvin Jones Jr. (7) prepares for a defensive snap during their NCAA football game against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets at Sanford Stadium, Saturday, November 26, 2022, in Athens, Ga. Georgia recovered the fumble Jason Getz /

Marvin Jones Jr. knew it was going to be a critical offseason for him. With Nolan Smith and Robert Beal both moving on to the NFL, he was going to have an opportunity to carve out a bigger role for himself entering his sophomore season.

“I’m definitely going to get a lot stronger,” Jones said prior to Georgia’s game against Ohio State. “Next year is honestly going to be one of my biggest seasons, so I’m going to take the offseason seriously.”

As the season progressed, Jones took on a larger role out of necessity. Nolan Smith suffered a season-ending injury in the win over Florida. Robert Beal and Chaz Chambliss also missed portions of games due to various ailments.

Smith and Beal are gone, as is MJ Sherman after he transferred to Nebraska. On Georgia’s depth chart at outside linebacker, only Chambliss is more experienced than Jones entering the 2023 campaign.

Related: An early projection of Georgia football’s 2023 defensive depth chart

“You get to see these guys take the preparations seriously,” Georgia outside linebackers coach Chidera Uzo-Diribe said. “And it benefits them when they set foot on the field. It’s a resilient group for sure.”

A Georgia player missing spring practice is hardly a rarity, as the offseason is often used to help players heal up from various injuries. Brock Bowers and Nakobe Dean are both recent examples of players who missed spring practice due to shoulder injuries, only for both to return and dominate during the ensuing season.

The Bulldogs are very much going to need Jones to follow in those massive footsteps. The Bulldogs did sign three talented linebacker prospects in the 2023 recruiting cycle, with Damon Wilson, Samuel M’Pemba and Gabe Harris all getting a chance to go through spring drills.

With Jones sidelined, he won’t have the same opportunity as those freshmen. Fellow 2022 signees Darris Smith and C.J. Madden will also get a chance to show what they can do in their second seasons at Georgia. Madden missed last spring with a shoulder injury.

As injuries mounted at the position this past fall, Georgia did move Jalon Walker around and give him some snaps as an edge rusher. The Bulldogs could certainly do so once again in the 2023 season, especially with Smael Mondon and Jamon Dumas-Johnson both returning at inside linebacker.

But Walker knows that if Georgia’s defense is going to be at its best this coming season, it needs to do so with Jones taking another big step in his development. Even if he won’t be able to showcase that during spring practice.

“He’s improved a lot. Great player, he’s so athletic. He’s a pass rusher, an edge setter,” Walker said. “This is what we need as a true outside ‘backer.”

Marvin Jones Jr. discusses his offseason goal, freshman season for Georgia football

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