Rams’ trade puts focus on Ernest Jones at linebacker

Rams linebacker Ernest Jones battles the Las Vegas Raiders during a preseason game in August.
Rams linebacker Ernest Jones battles the Las Vegas Raiders during a preseason game in August. Jones is set to see an expanded role with the Rams trading Kenny Young to the Broncos.
(Ronald Martinez / Getty Images)

The NFL is a cold business, and Rams rookie linebacker Ernest Jones experienced that first-hand and with mixed emotions this week.

Veteran Kenny Young welcomed Jones and helped him adapt to NFL life after the Rams selected Jones in the third round of the draft. He mentored Jones on the field and in the film room.

When the Rams surprisingly traded Young to the Denver Broncos, Jones was thrust into a potential starting role for Sunday’s game against the Houston Texans.


“We had built a great relationship,” Jones said Thursday after practice, “so I just definitely wanted more to be there for him than thinking about that it’s my turn to start playing.”

It did not take long for Jones to begin concentrating on the task ahead.

“I’ve always been preparing like I’m the starter,” he said. “But now that I’m in, actually, that role, I’m preparing a little bit harder, watching more film and just getting my week started a little earlier.”

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Rams coach Sean McVay said Monday that the decision to trade Young was “financially driven.” Young is earning $2.2 million this season in the final year of his contract. Trading Young and a 2024 seventh-round draft pick cleared salary-cap space and also netted a 2024 sixth-round draft pick for a player the Rams would have not re-signed.

It also left open the possibility that the Rams could make another move before the NFL trade deadline Tuesday.

Is Jones ready to play a significant role for 6-1 team that is regarded as a Super Bowl contender?

“Well, he got to,” star defensive lineman Aaron Donald said, chuckling, “ain’t no choice now.”


Donald said the Rams wished “nothing but the best” for Young.

“It’s just part of the business, man,” he said. “You just never know what can happen. But Ernest, he’s got to be ready. We trust that he can be ready, prepared and help us make a lot of plays out there.”

Jones could start alongside inside linebacker Troy Reeder in the Rams’ base defense, or possibly as lone linebacker in an alternate scheme. Travin Howard also is expected to receive increased playing time.

 Cardinals tight end Maxx Williams is tackled by the Rams' Ernest Jones, left, and Taylor Rapp.
Cardinals tight end Maxx Williams is tackled by the Rams’ Ernest Jones, left, and Taylor Rapp during their NFC West matchup at SoFi Stadium.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Jones has played in every game, mainly on special teams, and has made seven tackles. Sunday against the Detroit Lions, he played four defensive snaps and 21 special-teams snaps.

Defensive coordinator Raheem Morris said the Rams would miss Young as a player and person. But at 6 feet, 2 inches and 230 pounds, Jones is taller than the 6-1, 234-pound Young, who had been the Rams’ third-leading tackler.

“You’re talking about a bigger player that plays with better length,” Morris said. “He’s able to use his hands better and get on and off blocks.


“Not as fast and as explosive as a Kenny Young … probably brings a little bit more pop. Kenny brought a little bit more quick-twitch, in-space tackling.”

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Howard, a seventh-round draft pick in 2018, has made three tackles. He played 21 special-teams snaps against the Lions.

The Young trade was “a shocker,” he said.

“No one saw it coming but it’s ‘next man up’ and you have to be ready,” he said. “I’ve been preparing like I was the starter the whole year, so just keep doing that and when my number’s called be ready.”


Cornerbacks Jalen Ramsey (illness) and Robert Rochell (knee), safety Jordan Fuller (knee), linebacker Terrell Lewis (ribs), defensive lineman Sebastian Joseph-Day (chest) and offensive lineman Andrew Whitworth (knee) did not practice, per the Rams injury report.