Billed as a tackling machine, Neville Hewitt lived up to that reputation Sunday during his starting debut as the replacement for injured linebacker Christian Kirksey.
Hewitt stepped in for Kirksey, who was placed on injured reserve after undergoing thumb surgery, and recorded a team-high 10 tackles, nine on defense and one on special teams, during a 17-9 road loss to the Miami Dolphins. The Dolphins rushed for just 47 yards and one touchdown on 25 carries, averaging 1.9 yards per run.
The Texans had five turnovers on defense and lost primarily due to quarterback Tyrod Taylor being intercepted three times and the offense going 0 for 4 in the red zone.
“I thought Neville and that entire defense played really good," Texans coach David Culley said Monday. "I thought they played with a lot of energy. I thought they were all around that football all day. We had that one long drive that they had but that drive came off a turnover where we should have had points ourselves. I thought for the most part they played well enough for us to win a football game.”
Signed to a one-year, $1.7 million contract that includes $700,000 guaranteed, a $200,000 signing bonus, a $1 million base salary with $500,000 guaranteed for skill injury and salary cap and up to $500,000 total in per-game active roster bonuses with $29,411 per game active, according to NFL Players Association records, Hewitt started every game last season for the New York Jets and recorded a career-high 134 tackles along with two sacks, four passes defensed and one interception.
Hewitt displayed a quick-striking, hard-hitting style against the Dolphins, who signed him out of Marshall as an undrafted free agent.
"Neville did an excellent job," Texans safety Justin Reid said. "I love seeing his energy and passion on the field. Playing behind him, watching him just have fun out there, he’s no stranger to wanting to get his nose in there and make some contact. Neville did a tremendous job stepping up.”
Hewitt managed to rack up a lot of tackles despite playing just 28 snaps on defense, 37 percent of the total defensive snaps as he started next to Zach Cunningham and Kamu Grugier-Hill.
“I love that guy, man," Grugier-Hill said. "He’s hilarious. He went in and had like 25 snaps and 10 tackles. He went crazy. He’s a true professional. I mean, the guy watches more film than I have ever seen ever, by any teammate I’ve ever played with.
"He’s always knows what position to be in. Truthfully a lot of time, I go to him for, ‘Hey, what do you think about this play>’ He’s been there for me a lot. Being out there and playing with him, I was excited for him. To see the stat sheet after and just to see him do his thing during the game, it was exciting.”
Forging a seven-year NFL career, Hewitt has a history of overcoming adversity. Growing up in Silver Spring, Maryland, Hewitt dealt with his mother being incarcerated on a drug trafficking charge. He attended Georgia Military College before transferring to Marshall where he was named the Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year and recorded 208 tackles, 16 1/2 for losses 7 1/2 sacks and two interceptions in two seasons.
After being cleared medically with the Dolphins and playing for them for three seasons, he worked his way up to become a starter with the Jets and started every game last season.
When Hewitt was playing for the Jets, he told reporters how he felt about the game.
"All I want to do is play football," he said. "We all want to get paid, but we're all here because we love this game. For me, every time I go out there it's about respect, trying to earn respect from my teammates and the people we're playing against.
"I told our guys to make a name for yourself, make the most of this opportunity because you never know what game, what day is going to be your last play. If you don't give it your all you're going to regret it."
Aaron Wilson has covered the NFL for 20 years. He has previously written for The Houston Chronicle and The Baltimore Sun. He's on Twitter: @AaronWilson_NFL and Instagram: @aaronwilson7128.