For the second consecutive season, linebacker Neville Hewitt has proved himself a critical piece on the Jets' defensive unit. The fifth-year LB, who was re-signed to a one-year deal this offseason, first moved into a starting spot after weakside linebacker Avery Williamson went down with a season-ending knee injury in the preseason. Then he shifted over to the Mike position when LB C.J. Mosley endured a groin injury in Week 1 against the Bills. But Hewitt says the defensive staff, coordinated by Gregg Williams, prepared him for the cross-training required during the season's first quarter.
"I think our coaching staff did a really good job during the preseason when they started moving some guys around and making us learn two to three different positions," Hewitt told Eric Allen and Erik Coleman Monday night on Inside the Jets. "I ended up having to play in a few games, the one in Atlanta in the preseason and I played against the Giants in the preseason. When C.J went down, all I had to do was know that I was the Mike to go into that position. Any position if you don't practice it, you're not going to be as good until you start getting more reps. So, every game I've gotten better and I'm getting more comfortable at it."
Hewitt is no stranger to the next-man-up situation he's found himself in. In 2018, the 6'2", 234-pound Marshall product moved to a first-team role when former Jets' LB Darron Lee was required to serve a four-game suspension in the final month of the year. Hewitt initially entered the league in 2015 as an undrafted free agent with Miami and started five games for a Dolphins wild card team in 2016 that was coached by Adam Gase.
"This is an opportunity that I've been preparing for two years now. When I was in Miami, I started the year we went to the playoffs. I started in base defense and then when I got injured, I got cut, so it was a learning process for me," Hewitt said in reference to a neck injury that led to his release in 2017. "I just kept grinding and grinding and I got an opportunity here, and then with all of the injuries— it's like the same thing that happened to me, but it just flipped. It ended up working out for me to where I ended up having the opportunity to show how good I really am, and week in and week out I'm just trying to help this team win."
Hewitt has made the most out of his opportunity and currently leads the Jets with 34 tackles and two sacks through four games. He's also recorded two pass defenses and one interception. Entering Week 6, the Jets have the NFL's seventh-ranked rush defense (87.5 Yds/G) and are tied for third in yards allowed per carry (3.4). The team's eight takeaways tie for seventh in the league.
"As a defense we're always trying to force turnovers and be physical. Whenever a team comes to play us, they know they're going to have to come and play," said Hewitt. "No matter what our situation is on the other side of the ball, they have to deal with our defense. We try to go out to the ball and emphasize that we're trying to get even more just to give our offense chances to score."
Although the Green & White have gotten off to a winless start, Hewitt is confident that the team is close to being where they need to be.
"The stuff that we do here, we're not far off from being a really good team," said Hewitt. "And then we have growing pains here and there, but we're not far off from where we need to be."