As he arrived at NRG Stadium in Houston to make his first NFL start, Ernest Jones was battling butterflies.
"I've never been nervous before like that in my life," the 21-year-old linebacker said on this week's Rams Revealed podcast.
"I was like, 'Man Ernest, what's wrong?' But I shook them off and went out there and did what I do."
His week of preparation produced an interception, a shared sack, and a couple quarterback pressures. Jones earned a solid grade from Pro Football Focus across 54 snaps and double-digit tackles. They rewarded his tackling, rush impact, and coverage skills.
While his Combine measurables may not have popped, the Rams were attracted to the way Jones plays with a GPS tracker for the football. And they leaned on author Sam Walker’s leadership model to anticipate what type of presence he might grow into – on the field and at their facility in Thousand Oaks. It was an outside-the-box approach that general manager Les Snead and his team utilized to mine for value.
Of course, Jones isn't being asked to lead as a rookie. Captaincy may await in his future, as that's a role he filled throughout his time at South Carolina. But for now, he's focused on letting his performance do the talking.
"You know, I haven't made enough plays yet where I'm just able to be vocal," the Waycross, Georgia product said. "When I do become a leader for this team, it'll be through my actions."
After all, following the acquisition of outside linebacker Von Miller, Jones is now the centerpiece of a defense that boasts multiple All-Pro selections and future Hall of Famers. It's not like Aaron Donald needs his guidance.
"Not yet," Jones said with a laugh. "A.D. knows what he's doing. I'm trying to listen to him."
The Rams third-round selection in this year's draft did mention that he prefers to wear the green dot – the communications system through which Raheem Morris calls the defense. Second-year safety Jordan Fuller, also reputed for his leadership skills, currently holds that honor. That portion of the conversation is definitely worth a listen, as is his breakdown of the Miller trade, and a preview of Sunday Night Football against the Titans.
Rams Revealed is available on all your podcast platforms, including Apple, Spotify, and the team app. You can also check out the video version of the show on the Rams YouTube page.