At midnight, Texans linebacker Neville Hewitt is usually still awake and studying film of opponents to glean knowledge about their tendencies.
Fellow linebackers Kamu Grugier-Hill and injured starter Christian Kirksey will get a late telephone call from Hewitt to review plays.
“Me and Kamu pull up plays all the time even with Kirko on stuff,” Hewitt said. “We’ll see a play. We want to get things solved in the meeting before we get to the field. I’ve always been like that since college, just watch as much film to see the stuff they might do that we haven’t talked about.”
His dedication paid dividends against the Miami Dolphins.
Stepping in with Kirksey on injured reserve after undergoing thumb surgery, Hewitt recorded a team-high 10 tackles, nine on defense and one on special teams, during a 17-9 road loss. The Dolphins rushed for just 47 yards and one touchdown on 25 carries, averaging 1.9 yards per run.
“When I was in the game, I just did my job,” Hewitt said. “Hit the gap and if I couldn’t get through, get to the ball. I always prepare the game as if I am going to start the game. You never know when somebody is going to get hurt or if something comes up when your number is going to be called. The philosophy is always be prepared, be prepared for when your opportunity comes.”
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. "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.
“The last two years I played a lot, started a lot,:” Hewitt said. “I mean, it’s one of those things that when I played in Miami my second year, the year we went to the playoffs, I learned that you have to accept your role on the team. You play your role to the best of your ability until your opportunity comes. If you play special teams, you play special teams to the best of your ability to help the team win. That’s been my job and role this year to do my job to the best of my ability and help out the guys that I can.”
“Some days it’s harder than others, but you have to stay locked in. It’s a long season. You never know when your opportunity is going to come and when it comes you have to be prepared. You can be ready but if you are prepared for it, you are going to take full advantage of it.”
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 andGrugier-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.
Attending military school instilled discipline in Hewitt.
“Yes, it did,” he said. “When I got through that military school, it prepared me for everything in life. If I could get through that, I can do anything.”
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.
Despite the Titans playing without injured All-Pro running back Derrick Henry, Hewitt still anticipates them running the football a lot with Adrian Peterson, D’Onta Foreman, Jeremy McNichols and mobile quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
“I played with Tannehill when I played in Miami, he can run,” Hewitt said. “ I believe he played receiver at some point in his life. He’s pretty fast and when you see him on film, he can run. I think we are prepared. Our defense is prepared to stop the run. If that’s what they do, they are going to continue to do it whether they have Henry or not.
“They still have a very good veteran quarterback to lead the way for them and the rest of the guys in that room are pretty good. Their offensive line is good. That’s why they are 8-2. If you run the ball well in the league it opens up a lot of stuff for you. If we stop the run and force them in long third downs, it helps us out on defense as well.”
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.