Texans linebacker Neville Hewitt earns starting nod with ‘pure toughness’

ARLINGTON, TEXAS - AUGUST 21: Neville Hewitt #43 of the Houston Texans while making a horns hand motion after an NFL game against the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium on August 21, 2021 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images) (Cooper Neill, 2021 Cooper Neill)

Billed as a tackling machine, Texans linebacker Neville Hewitt lived up to that reputation during a game last season against the Miami Dolphins.

In a losing cause, the former New York Jets starter stepped in for defensive captain Christian Kirksey, who was 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.

Now, Hewitt ranks first on the depth chart and is slated to start Sunday’s season-opener against the Indianapolis Colts at NRG Stadium.

“Neville, he is a special player in that he is a pro,” Texans linebackers coach Miles Smith said. “He’s going to attack things the way that you should from day after day. He watches probably more film than anybody else. When you’re doing these types of things, you’re able to just consistently be where your supposed to be. And that’s what Neville does.

“Neville also has an elite quality of just pure toughness. This is still football and he’s a linebacker. Linebackers have to be the toughest guys on the field and I don’t think anybody in the league questions whether Neville Hewitt is going to throw his head in there and knock somebody out. That’s really what shows his elite aspect in the league.”

Hewitt started every game two seasons ago for the 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.

Hewitt grew up in Silver Spring, Maryland, emulating the late hard-hitting safety Sean Taylor and Baltimore Ravens Hall of Fame middle linebacker Ray Lewis.

“The physicality,” Hewitt said when asked how he patterned his game. “Get my job done, whatever the play says to do.”

Hewitt signed a one-year, $1.95 million contract during the offseason that included a $350,000 signing bonus, $850,000 total guaranteed and a base salary of $1.3 million. He played last season under a one-year, $1.7 million contract that included $700,000 guaranteed with 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.

“It helps me out just knowing that they believe in me to even be here,” Hewitt said.

Forging a seven-year NFL career, Hewitt has a history of overcoming adversity. Growing up in 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.

“I love that guy, man,” linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill said. “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 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..”

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.

Hewitt, 28, started five games and had 60 tackles last season for the Texans. He has 412 career tackles, 21 for losses.

Now, he’ll test his skills against Colts star running back Jonathan Taylor. The Colts swept the Texans last season, outscoring them by a combined margin of 62-3 as Taylor dominated.

“He’s one of the best running backs in the league, if not the best,” Hewitt said. “So, we’re looking forward to it. Anytime you lose a game, it’s never a good feeling. Especially in that fashion.”

Aaron Wilson is a Pro Football Network reporter and a contributor to KPRC 2 and click2houston.com