NFC West Writer
At the heart of a surprising 8-7 record for the Los Angeles Rams has been the emergence of inside linebacker Ernest Jones.
However, his rise is no surprise to coach Sean McVay, who has watched the South Carolina product grow from an athletic player full of potential as a rookie to one of the best players on L.A.’s much-improved defense in his third season.
“He’s got such an authentic play energy that I think has been instrumental in a lot of good things, not only for the defense, but for our team,” McVay told FOX Sports. “One of the coolest things [TV broadcaster] Kirk Herbstreit mentioned to me after the [Week 16] game was watching how excited Ernest gets for the offensive guys and just this team and the connection.
“I’ve really been super proud and happy for the things that he’s done, and we got to keep it going.”
Manning the middle of L.A.’s defense, Jones has been a big part of his team’s climb back to relevance. The Rams have won five of six games since their bye week, when they were 3-6 and appeared headed toward another rebuilding season. Now they sit as the No. 6 seed in the NFC and control their playoff destiny.
With two games left to play, Jones has already established career highs in combined tackles (132), tackles for loss (13) and sacks (4.5). According to Next Gen Stats, he has created 20 pressures since Week 11, 10 more than the next closest linebacker. He also has 34 defensive stops, the most among all defenders over that same time frame.
Since Week 11, the Rams have held opponents to 21.3 points per contest and have allowed just 80.2 rushing yards a game and just one rushing touchdown.
“We’re just a much closer unit,” Jones said. “And we’re playing together. All of us are playing on the same page. We’re executing at the right time. Everything is going perfect right now.”
McVay said that Jones benefited last season from watching perennial Pro Bowler Bobby Wagner’s consistent, studious preparation on a weekly basis. The Rams moved on from Wagner in the offseason, allowing Jones to become one of the leaders on defense, along with future Hall of Famer Aaron Donald and safety Jordan Fuller.
“You talk about a big, powerful man and the impact that he’s able to have with just being vocal,” Rams defensive coordinator Raheem Morris said about Jones. “The impact that he has and the plays that he makes, the splash plays, the excitement he brings, the energy, the juice. The energy and the edge — a lot of that is Ernest.”
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Jones wears the green dot as the defensive playcaller for the Rams. Only three starters returned from last year’s defense, so this season the unit has relied on younger players like the 24-year-old Jones and rookie defensive linemen Byron Young and Kobie Turner to help get the job done.
“One of his things is he’s got a great concept trigger,” McVay said of Jones. “He really has a good understanding of what to expect and anticipate. And really, he and [linebackers coach] Chris Shula have such a cool relationship in terms of their weekly rhythm.
“It’s why he’s got the dot. He’s really starting to understand and own the intent of, all right, why is Raheem or the defensive coaches calling certain things? What are we really trying to get out of it? And it’s all encompassing — to the run game, to the pass game, to protections. He’s been outstanding.”
A third-round selection in the 2021 draft, Jones will enter the final year of his rookie deal next season, when he’s scheduled to make $1.2 million. The Rams cleared plenty of cap space last offseason by getting rid of several veteran players, so it makes sense for Los Angeles to sign Jones to a new contract that keeps him in the fold long-term.
Eric D. Williams has reported on the NFL for more than a decade, covering the Los Angeles Rams for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Chargers for ESPN and the Seattle Seahawks for the Tacoma News Tribune. Follow him on Twitter at @eric_d_williams.
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