Neville Hewitt just might be the personification of the Jets' "Next-Man Up" approach to defense.
Wearing No. 46, a number not normally associated with linebackers, Hewitt began last season as a stand-in on the outside after an injury that cost Avery Williamson his season. That changed in a flash when free-agent middle linebacker C.J. Mosley pulled up with a groin injury in the 2019 season opener against visiting Buffalo. Mosley was out for the season and has opted out of this season for family reasons related to COVID-19.
Hewitt grabbed hold of yet another opportunity (except for four games when he sat out with knee and neck injuries) and the plan is for him to be in the middle of Gregg Williams' defensive legerdemain when the Jets open the 2020 NFL season again facing the Bills, but this time in Orchard Park, NY.
"We love coaching guys that you have to pull back, not push forward," Williams, the Jets' defensive coordinator, said after Hewitt re-upped with the Jets in March. "If Nev makes a mistake, it's full speed, full contact, here you go — that's what you want. At this level you can't pace yourself, you can't go seven-eighths speed. You have to be full go all the time. He's done a very good job in the versatility of playing three different positions, and being able to do the middle linebacker stuff is not easy, just from verbiage and checks and stuff."
In his three of his five seasons in the NFL, three with the Dolphins, Hewitt (6-2, 234) has played all 16 games. He was cut, then signed to Miami's practice squad in 2017, playing in only six games. Signing with the Jets as a free agent in 2018, Hewitt played in all 16 games.
Hewitt became an unrestricted free agent after last season, but then decided to return to the Green & White two days after the start of the signing period. He also opted to remain with Head Coach Adam Gase, who was his HC with the Dolphins, in 2016-17.
In his 12 games last season, Hewitt set a number of career personal bests: most starts (12), defensive snaps (762), interceptions (2), pass defenses (5), sacks (3.0), total tackles (78) and QB hits (8). In addition, he was one of only seven players in the league with 3 or more sacks and 2 or more interceptions.
On the inside of the Jets' defense, Hewitt will team with Williamson, who is back from injury and itching to hit someone -- anyone. Blake Cashman, a second-year player out of Minnesota, will also see time, mostly on the outside. All three linebackers spent time out injured last season.
"This is one thing that we talk about as a staff all the time where injuries occur, we have the 'next man up' philosophy." Gase said. "We try to put our players in the best position possible. So, when guys do go down, when we do have some kind of change, we can't flinch as coaches, we just adjust what we're doing. We do everything we can to put those guys in the best position possible. Sometimes it's through trial and error, sometimes it's, 'Hey prove to us that you either can do something or you can't.' That comes through the entire time of training camp."
This season, Hewitt is no longer the "Next Man Up." He's now one of the Jets' men in the middle.