In 2021, Jones authored a productive rookie season that had him in line for a bigger role the following year.
In 2022, it was then-11th-year pro Wagner who wore the green dot as the on-field signal-caller the Rams' defense.
In 2023, Jones took over the green dot – two years after getting a taste of the role in the preseason – then broke James Laurinitis' franchise record for combined tackles in a single season.
"That's a tough one," Rams defensive coordinator Raheem Morris said, when asked about the biggest area of growth he has seen in Jones from last season to this season. "Ernest came in pretty mature as you know, but Bobby Wagner gets a lot of credit for helping him and well deserved just because of the man Bobby was. But the player and the man Ernest is was just dying to come out. This year the training wheels are off and it is his team. It's his defense."
Even if that was the case, it was still a valuable arrangement for Jones, who primarily absorbed as much knowledge as he could by observing Wagner's work ethic.
"The biggest thing from that partnership was kind of just how to work," Jones said. "From a football aspect, I never was one to ask Bobby a lot of questions. I would just watch him go to work and knew that if you want to be a Hall of Fame player, you got to do those things. So I was able to watch Bobby go to work every day, which was a blessing to me. It was just really helpful to see him day-in and day-out."
The trust sign of the training wheels coming off displays itself in walkthroughs, which Morris brought up recently.
"He controls the walkthrough," Morris said. "I'm just there and when he wants me to move away, he'll kindly let me know. That is the biggest thing I see from Ernest when he wants to take over."
Again, if you know Jones, you know this didn't come out of nowhere. Taking this initiative was the next logical step in becoming the player he needed to be.
This is where that work to authentically earn his teammates' trust back during those training camp days comes into play.
"I just knew that I needed to be somebody to have a voice," Jones said. "I felt like I had earned the respect from the guys and that's what I was just wanting to do – just make sure that if things need to be corrected, they heard it from me, from a player first, not just straight from the coaches."
Donald noticed the difference the beginning of the season.
"He's been great," Donald said on Sept. 22. "The leadership role, obviously where he's been since he'd been here. I think Ernest is going to be a star in this league. He's got all the abilities, even bulked up a little bit. So he's been flying around. His leadership role is what you want to have out of a mike linebacker, out of a guy that's calling all the plays from all that. So we just got to keep working, but he's been doing great."
Sometimes, Jones uses his voice to challenge teammates in practice with some friendly trash talk, too. The team's competitive periods, or Mamba Periods, is when it comes out.
Just ask someone who's across the line of scrimmage from him in those settings, who brings a ton of play energy to the field in his own right.
"Especially when we go competitive periods, like the Mamba Periods where it's 1-D and 1-O, he's always getting it started, whether that's talking to us or talking to the guys that are around him," running back Kyren Williams told theRams.com. "But he's always that dude where you're going find the juice from, he going to have that juice for you. Even when he makes plays out there on the field during games, he'll make a play, he'll let you know about it, but then you feel him. Like, you really feel him throughout the whole time he's doing those things. He's just a great guy. I can always go to him and talk a little trash and whatnot. I definitely think he's a competitive leader to the fullest of what he does."