Skip to main content

Rams News | Los Angeles Rams -

Ernest Jones IV's consistency, leadership a crucial part of 2023 Rams defense, season
In a playoff-bound season, the Rams don't get to that point without linebacker Ernest Jones IV. 
By Stu Jackson Jan 13, 2024

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. – For as long as defensive tackle Aaron Donald has been around, it is his work ethic and leadership that has set the example for the Rams' defense.

Of course that has been the case with a young group this year. But to paraphrase the Pro Football Writers Association's Los Angeles Chapter, the story of the Rams' 2023 season cannot be told without another player.

Linebacker Ernest Jones IV.

His own leadership, consistency and stability have been just as pivotal to L.A.'s defense, and getting the team itself to the playoffs.

As the Rams' roster turned over this offseason, their defense was hit hardest by veteran departures. Yes, it still had Donald, but there was still a leadership void to be filled with Bobby Wagner and Jalen Ramsey no longer there.

When Donald was asked in May 2023 during the team's offseason program if he was going to become a more vocal leader with more young players on defense, he said at times he feels like he's going to need to be, but also pointed to players like Jones and defensive back Jordan Fuller who were more than capable of stepping into that kind of role.

"So there's guys that are young, but on this team they're no longer young," Donald said at that time. "It's time to step up and be a leader as well, so you just got to trust that those guys are going to be there to speak up and motivate me too."

When Jones reported to training camp in Irvine in late July, his main focus was on leading by example in an authentic way. It was through this process that he found his voice on Los Angeles' defense from a leadership standpoint. 

"I probably worked myself through training camp, got through training camp, (and) the way I like to lead is I just like to show that I am a leader person first," Jones told "So I just had to gain the respect of the guys in the locker room, of course make some plays so they can listen to somebody who's making a few plays, and that kind of did it."

Donald has mainly been a leader by example during his time the Rams, one who is selective about when he uses his voice to take charge – best illustrated by the late stages of the 2021 season and the subsequent Super Bowl LVI run. But to suggest his stature would make it difficult for others to enter into leadership roles, especially on this defense, would be untrue.

Jones can speak to this first-hand.

"I would say no," Jones said, when asked if it was difficult to establish his voice with an established one like Donald's around. "You got just a good guy that wants those leaders, that needs help leading. We're just partners made in heaven, and it worked out perfectly."

Before the start of the regular season, Jones joined Donald as one of the team captains from the defense.

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 "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."

The green dot – or on-field defensive signal-caller – is not an easy responsibility, because the player who owns that role is essentially the quarterback of the defense and takes ownership of a vast amount of information.

He has to know what looks to own, what looks to check out of, front structures, and more, which places a premium on studying and absorbing information throughout a game week. During the game, he's relaying that playcall information from the defensive coordinator before the communication cuts off. Keep in mind, the play clock is 40 seconds, but the communication from coach to on-field signal-caller shuts off at 15 seconds – at which point the on-field signal-caller is flying solo.

All the while, the on-field signal-caller is downloading that information and having to communicate it clearly to his teammates. Sometimes, it's not relayed perfectly to him. In other, rarer times, it might be operator error from the coach calling the plays causing the on-field signal-caller to call drives on his own.

And of course, as a mike linebacker, there's an understood element of physicality and toughness that must be brought in addition to that mental acuity.

Defensive back Quentin Lake, who has handled the star position late in the season, has as good of a perspective on that operation as any defensive player with his proximity to Jones on the practice field and during a game.

"As a player next him, he's a super physical guy, super smart, super talented when it comes to that," Lake told "Watches his film, understands where he needs to be, his run fits, where he needs to be in the pass. I think all around, Ernest is one of the top linebackers in the league, personally. He's been able to do it on all levels, whether that's in the pass game or in the run game, and he just knows it. He sees it, he goes and gets it, and he's one hell of a player." 

Morris said that what Jones brings to the Rams' gameday atmosphere when Jones is feeling right "is different than a lot of guys I have been around." One of those players was 16-year NFL linebacker London Fletcher, whom Morris introduced Jones to when the Rams host the Commanders at SoFi Stadium in mid-December. Another was former Bucs linebacker and Pro Football Hall of Famer Derrick Brooks. 

"When you talk about that position and the control they have, Derrick Brooks was a little more calm," Morris said. "When he spoke, he spoke in this monotone voice, I think that's the right word, and it was just, you locked in to pay attention to what he was saying because he was so locked in. Ernest, when he speaks, it comes across more like London. It was a little more defiant. Get right and it's like, you are big, I better listen. He's just one of those guys. He's fun to be around. He's got youthful enthusiasm that just screams out the building and we love that."

Jones said he never really goes into a season with goals, but rather the mindset of wanting to "be the best for this team, the best player that I could be on a personal level." 

Well, except for maybe one.

"I just gotta have tackles," Jones said. "For me, I love to tackle, so I gotta have a least 100. So to be able to beat that, go past that, that's good enough for me." 

He went farpast that, actually – by 45 to break James Laurinitis' franchise single-season record. When informed in the locker room postgame after the Rams' road victory over the Giants in Week 17, a smile broke across Jones' face, and he allowed himself to appreciate what the moment meant to him personally.

"Crazy thing is (Manager, Communications) Chase (Isaacs) came up to me 2 or 3 weeks ago and said I was 24 tackles away," Jones said on Dec. 31. "As soon as he told me, I was like, 'Oh, these are going to be the hardest 24 tackles I've ever gotten.' To finally get it, I mean, it means everything to do it for this franchise. But man, I'm from South Georgia, these things don't happen. So just good to be bringing something back home like this, a record, and just look forward to continuing to inspire the kids from back home." 

More significant that the record from that game, though, was a potentially under-the-radar play that proved critical. 

Well within veteran kicker Mason Crosby's range, the Giants watched as quarterback Tyrod Taylor handed the ball off to running back Saquon Barkley out of the shotgun, only to have Barkley stopped by Jones for a 2-yard loss after Jones shot through the wide-open gap from the weak side. Coupled with a third-down incompletion out of a timeout, that tackle for loss by Jones effectively led to the missed 54-yard field goal by Crosby, who had drilled a 52-yard field goal against the Eagles – also in an outdoor environment – six days earlier. 

The Rams held on for a 26-25 win in New Jersey, and along with a Seahawks loss to the Steelers that same day, clinched a playoff spot.

Jones may not have received Pro Bowl or AP All-Pro honors for his standout 2023 season, but those who have watched and worked alongside him closely recognize how valuable he's been this season.

And with the ceiling one of his teammates sees, that recognition will be coming in due time.

"He's been playing lights out, man," Donald said. "I love playing with Ernest. I love the energy he brings. I love the leadership he brings. I love how he flies around. I got the opportunity to play with a lot of good football players, but I think if he can continue to play, continue to do what he's doing, he can be a special player, man. I've been saying that since his rookie year. We saw what he was doing his rookie year, he helped us win the Super Bowl, so I ain't got nothing but love and respect for him, and his ceiling is high, as long as he keeps putting the body of work in and not allow himself to be satisfied. He can be a great one."

back to top

Related Content