ATHENS — To this point in his career, it feels like it’s always been two steps forward, three steps back for Georgia outside linebacker Marvin Jones Jr.

He arrived at Georgia with a ton of promise, as he was the No. 24 overall player in the 2022 signing class. But he was a summer enrollee and dealt with shoulder problems for much of his freshman season.

He played sparingly and due to his freshman limitations, he couldn’t fully take advantage of a depleted outside linebacker room on the 2022 team. When it seemed like he was poised to have a big spring for Georgia, Jones had surgery to repair his ailing shoulder.

Even into his sophomore season, there’s been a start-stop feel to Jones’ season. He missed Georgia’s first SEC game against South Carolina with an illness.

But that absence has been sandwiched between two encouraging games where the young outside linebacker has shown real progress.

“He’s gotten better,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart. “I thought he’s had a good week of practice so far. He was crushed he wasn’t able to play in that game, he’s recovered from all that and I think he’s getting better. He understands our defense in terms of knowledge and system.”

To date, Jones only has 3 tackles on the season. He’s still behind Chaz Chambliss on the Georgia depth chart on standard downs and he has yet to crack Georgia’s pass-rushing package, which features Jalon Walker, Xavian Sorey and Darris Smith.

Jones has shown flashes though of being a disruptive difference maker, as he has 1.5 tackles for loss already on the season. That’s already more than he had in his entire freshman season.

Given Auburn figures to be a run-heavy team, having someone like Jones to chase around Payton Thorne, Robbie Ashford and its stable of running backs could go a long way in slowing down the Auburn offense.

Performing well against an SEC foe would also qualify as another important stepping stone in Jones’ still-young career.

“A lot of guys in that room are young and new, and he’s been able to grasp that feel for things,” Smart said. “Hoping he comes along and starts making some plays.”

Georgia also does not yet know the status of star defensive lineman Mykel Williams. He’s been Georgia’s leading pass rusher from the moment he arrived on campus as a 2022 signee and has gotten off to a very strong start to the 2023 season.

But he missed Georgia’s game against UAB with what Smart has called a sickness. His status is still up in the air heading into Saturday’s game against Auburn.

The members of Georgia’s defensive front know they have to be ready to go, regardless of whether or not Williams is out there to harass and pressure Auburn’s quarterbacks.

“I’m really confident in the defensive line. One man doesn’t make the defensive line,” Tramel Walthour said. “He definitely adds a lot of value to the defensive line front. But like I said earlier, it’s next man up mentality and then you just have to go out there and execute.”

In the event that Williams can’t go, Jones could get a larger share of reps for Georgia. This season, the line between outside linebacker and defensive end has been more blurred, with freshman Gabe Harris actually repping at both positions.

Jones hasn’t been asked to do that just yet for Georgia. For now, the Bulldogs want to see him continue to win each moment and stack good games together.

Kirby Smart shares his thoughts on Marvin Jones