THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. – In wake of linebacker Kenny Young getting traded to the Broncos, opportunity knocks for rookie Ernest Jones.
"I've always been preparing like I'm a starter," Jones said after Thursday's practice. "So now that I'm actually in that role, just preparing a little bit harder, watching more film and just getting my week started a little earlier knowing that I'll be having increased reps."
Jones is no stranger to reaching a bigger role earlier than anticipated, at least from an external perception.
He played in five games as a true freshman at the University of South Carolina, then was a starting MIKE linebacker by his sophomore season, and did so in all 12 of the Gamecocks' games that year.
This summer, defensive coordinator Raheem Morris entrusted Jones with reps wearing the green dot as the unit's on-field defensive signal-caller during training camp and in the preseason opener against the Chargers. Safety Jordan Fuller held, and still holds, that role full-time, but it was notable nonetheless.
"Just growing up, just always being mature and we're playing football," Jones said. "In the past, I've kind of had to sit and wait my turn. From those experiences, just knowing that any given moment, you can be put into that starting spot. So just always staying ready, always make sure I'm preparing like I'm the starter."
Jones said Young was instrumental in his growth as a player, teaching him about the technical details of the game and ways to slow the game. That's shown in practice and when he's had the chance to take the field.
At the same time, Rams head coach Sean McVay on Monday said they are still learning about Jones.
That's partly because he's only played 45 total defensive snaps through the first seven weeks – nine against the Colts in Week 2 after Young was ejected from the game, 10 against the Cardinals in Week 4 and 26 against the Giants in Week 6. Otherwise, the bulk of his playing time has come on special teams, where he's received 132 of his 177 total snaps this season.
Even within that somewhat small sample size, though, teammates have been impressed.
"He's athletic, he's fast, he move around, so we're going to see when it's live," Rams defensive lineman Aaron Donald said.
The Rams are still working through the scope of Jones' and the other linebackers involvement as they adjust to Young's departure, but they're confident in what Jones can bring based on what he's shown thus far.
"I've been really impressed with his constant development and going out there every single week and treating these weeks like he was going to be the starter, whether he was or not," Rams defensive coordinator Raheem Morris said. "And then to be able to go out there and get a couple of plays in the Giants game and when his number was called upon in some of our different packages. So, I'm really looking forward to him playing well and doing a nice job for us."