The inside linebacker position has a bunch of new faces as four of the five currently on the roster are in their first training camp with the New York Jets. Avery Williamson is the biggest new name and is taking over for Demario Davis after he left in free agency. Darron Lee will now be the guy to communicate the plays on every down in his third year.
Behind those two are Kevin Minter, Kevin Pierre-Louis and Neville Hewitt. Minter has a history playing under Bowles in Arizona in 2013 and 2014, while also being more fit to be the backup at MIKE. Pierre-Louis on the other hand has dealt with some injuries keeping him off the field throughout the summer and is also looking at a one game suspension to start the season. The one thing in his favor is the fact that he is getting paid $2.5 million guaranteed this season. If Maccagnan is okay with letting that money spoil and makes the decision based on who deserves it, the door is wide open for Hewitt to take his spot.
Earlier in the summer I was writing about battles at a few positions. Inside linebacker was not one of them because it seemed to be set in stone with Williamson, Lee, Minter and Pierre-Louis making the team, however Neville Hewitt has made it hard to keep his name out of consideration. The 4th year linebacker was undrafted out of Marshall in 2015, signing with the Dolphins. His first three years were all spent in Miami, racking up 104 tackles as well as one interception and sack a piece. He has mostly been known as a special teamer to date but now seems like he can make a contribution to the defense.
Throughout the last couple of weeks, Hewitt has really shown up in both practices and preseason games. He has been the leading tackler in both games and recorded an interception (albeit on a Xavier Cooper tip) but stats don’t always tell the whole story. After going back and watching the first two games there are a few things, good and bad, that stood out to me. Some of the good is that he has been used in coverage, as a blitzer and has taken on blocks in the trenches. He possesses plus speed at the position, really showing it when in coverage and blitzing through the A gap.
In coverage, according to TOJ’s own Michael Nania, through the first two weeks he has given up 9 completions on 10 attempts for 60 yards. This in addition to 2 pass deflections. While the completion percentage is higher than we would like, the 6.0 yards per attempt tells me they are all short completions in front of him and is there to make the tackle right away, not allowing the pass catchers to gain any yards after the catch. One of the best plays I have seen from Hewitt actually came at practice, following Eric Tomlinson across the middle of the field and laying out to get the pass breakup on a perfect pass that should have been a completion. Additionally, when asked to take on blockers, Hewitt has shown good balance and strength to take on the contact, outside of getting taken to the ground by a full back on one play.
As good as Hewitt has been, there are still some issues in his game. His first step is a little inconsistent, sometimes starting in the wrong direction which can potentially take him out of a play. In fact a couple of those were on play action fakes, which is definitely something to work on. As mentioned, Hewitt was used as a blitzer and was able to get near the quarterback when going up the middle. However, when used as a blitzer off the edge, it honestly seemed to be a waste. They may have just been trying something with him there but that experiment should be over.
With Darron Lee continuing to struggle with consistency, especially in coverage, and Pierre-Louis with the aforementioned suspension and durability concerns, Neville Hewitt might actually have a chance to get some playing time. Granted Lee is a former first round pick but he hasn’t done enough on the field to guarantee his spot in the starting lineup. I’m not going to say that Hewitt would be an upgrade because we have still yet to see him go against starting offenses and has never proven it in his three previous years. Nevertheless if he continues to play like he has on both defense and special teams, you could be looking at the fourth or even possibly the third middle linebacker on the depth chart.