After parting ways with star Bobby Wagner, the Los Angeles Rams will turn to Ernest Jones to lead the linebacker spot – something he’s been groomed to do for the last two years.
The Los Angeles Rams raised eyebrows around the NFL on Thursday by mutually parting ways with linebacker Bobby Wagner, fresh off being named second-team All-Pro.
It was Wagner’s one and only season in Los Angeles, arriving after a decade of brilliant play with the NFC West rival Seattle Seahawks, and he made his mark, logging 140 tackles, 10 tackles for loss and six sacks.
But for as valuable as Wagner was on the field, he was potentially even more off of it – just ask linebacker Ernest Jones, who seemingly followed Wagner’s every move starting in OTAs and didn’t look back.
By signing Wagner last offseason, Jones was forced to move out of his natural position of inside linebacker and gave up command of the defense, even after a stellar Super Bowl performance in which he recorded three quarterback hits, two tackles for loss and one sack.
But for the Rams and defensive coordinator Raheem Morris, it was all a part of the plan – and now, Jones is ready to take over for Wagner in the middle of Los Angeles’ defense.
“You move (Jones) into that role, you let Bobby lead, you let Bobby teach,” Morris said near season’s end. “Hopefully he’s handing him the torch at one point a la (former Los Angeles Lakers point guard) Magic Johnson to (former Chicago Bulls forward) Michael Jordan kind of a deal.”
And perhaps this is why the Rams are comfortable moving on from Wagner – Morris said they viewed Jones as a similar player during the pre-draft process, and now that he’s had further tutelage, is primed to ascend into a similar role.
Jones, 23, had a solid second season, playing in all 17 games while making 11 starts and recording 114 tackles and four tackles for loss. He impressed Morris with his energy, physicality, toughness and instincts while playing roughly two-thirds of Los Angeles’ defensive snaps.
Best of all, Jones seemed to have boosted his stock internally – and Morris certainly foreshadowed Wagner’s departure and Jones’ increased role.
“The guy’s going to continue to get better throughout his career,” Morris said. “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.”
Now, it’s up to Jones to execute – but between the mentorship and experience gained from Wagner, he has all of the ingredients to turn in a standout 2023 season.
You can follow Daniel Flick on Twitter @DFlickDraft
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