THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. – For most linebackers, a season like the one the Rams' Ernest Jones has put together in 2022 would feel satisfactory.
He's recorded 108 total tackles – almost double what he had as a rookie last year – and added one forced fumble and one interception while playing in all 16 games, making 10 starts.
Jones, however, has higher standards for himself.
"Obviously, I just wanted to build on year one," Jones said earlier this week. "Do my best to help this team and get back to the playoffs, get back in the Super Bowl. Individual goals, I just wanted to play great, and I don't feel like I did that this year. I don't feel like I lived up to what I know I'm capable of. So for me, it's, I'm ready to get in with Seattle, but I'm also ready to get back to work and go do what I know I'm capable of."
And that is?
"I feel like I'm capable of being one of the best linebackers in this league," Jones said. "I mean, I just know I am."
It helps that Jones' lofty ambitions have an example of that caliber to follow in veteran linebacker Bobby Wagner.
Jones admitted that prior to the Rams signing Wagner earlier this year, he expected to be "the man" at linebacker, but also had the right perspective about what Wagner's arrival could mean for his development. He also trusts the organization and its coaching staff to put the best players out on the field.
"I just looked at it, for me, it's like, 'Man, I get another year and opportunity to learn from somebody I grew up watching, somebody that's like a role model,'" Jones said.
It's difficult for Jones to pinpoint one thing he's taken away from his time working with Wagner in their almost-full season working together. Jones is a visual learner, so he tries to pay attention to what Wagner does every day. Jones' takeaway: "For the most part, what I've learned this year is that everything that I thought I was doing, it wasn't enough. (There is) more to be done."
Whatever he's picked up, it's translating and being noticed by Wagner.
"I think he's played great. I think every game he's gotten better," Wagner said on Dec. 15. "He had an opportunity early on in the season where he could have made a pick in the red zone and I think it ended up in (safety) Nick (Scott)'s hands, and to see him make that play last week was pretty cool. He brings a lot of energy, a person that people feed off of, and it's just been cool to see."
This year, Jones became the seventh player in Rams history and only the third Rams linebacker to hit 100 total tackles in his second season, joining safety John Johnson (118), linebacker James Laurinaitis (114), safety Jordan Fuller (113), linebacker Alec Ogletree (111), safety Adam Archuleta (108) and safety T.J. McDonald (105).
His production and overall performance may not be what he hoped for, but for now, he's given Los Angeles' defense a reliable contributor it can count on. And in the meantime, he'll continue to learn from the best as he aims to be the best.
"I think Ernest has gone out and given us exactly what he is: energy, physicality, brute toughness, the guy you want to put out there because he's above the neck mentally sharp," Rams defensive coordinator Raheem Morris said. "The guy's going to continue to get better throughout his career and I see nothing but greatness when that torch is passed and whenever it is passed for him moving to what Bobby's been able to bring to us and what they've been able to help each other with."