If Neville Hewitt starts at MIKE linebacker for the New York Jets, it’s his talent as a blitzer that will stand out the most.
Neville Hewitt has been taking reps with the first-team defense throughout training camp. It appears he is poised to be the team’s starting MIKE linebacker in Week 1, donning the headset as he did throughout most of the 2019 season following C.J. Mosley‘s injury.
To become a solid starter, Hewitt has quite a few weaknesses to clean up (coverage in both zone and man, missed tackles, gap discipline against the run), but there is one facet where the Jets can count on him to thrive: pass-rushing.
Hewitt was excellent as a blitzer for the Jets in 2019. He tied for 13th among linebackers in total pressures (16) despite ranking 24th in pass-rush snaps (79). His Pro Football Focus pass-rush grade of 72.3 ranked 10th-best among linebackers with at least 50 blitz opportunities.
Perhaps the key to maximizing Hewitt’s potential is emphasizing his greatest strength while minimizing his load in areas where he struggles. That would mean making him one of the most blitz-heavy linebackers in the league.
Hewitt averaged 6.6 pass-rush snaps per game in 2019. The league’s top-five off-ball linebackers in pass-rush snaps combined to average 13.0 per game.
That number is around where Hewitt needs to be. Last year, linebackers like Demario Davis (28 pressures), Jamie Collins (32), and D’Onta Hightower (33) were among the most impactful pass-rushers on their respective teams. Hewitt’s efficiency suggests he is certainly capable of that kind of production with a boost in opportunities.
Considering the Jets’ lack of a quality edge rusher and the loss of their most effective blitzer (Jamal Adams), there should be plenty of incentive to send Hewitt after the quarterback at a very high volume.
Hewitt’s ability to defeat blockers when presented with a favorable one-on-one matchup is what elevates his rushing ability above the middle of the pack.
On this play, Hewitt lines up on the weak side opposite the left guard. Leonard Williams, lined up as the 3-technique on Hewitt’s side, crosses over the left guard and loops inside, attracting the guard’s attention and putting him in a difficult position to block Hewitt. Hewitt rushes the left guard head-on and throws a side-step move, winning the A-gap and getting a hit on Josh Allen that forces an incomplete pass.
Hewitt shows his IQ as a blitzer on this next rush. He creeps into the A-gap before the snap and then runs a twist with Jamal Adams. This puts the center in a tough spot against Hewitt, as since Adams attracted his attention initially, he is late to pick up Hewitt and is positioned perpendicular to the line of scrimmage, leaving an open lane into the pocket. Here is the position that Hewitt is placed in.
While Hewitt is presented with a great opportunity here, he cannot just barrel through with no rhyme or reason. That would make it easy for the center to recover and pick him up in time for the quarterback to react and escape (especially considering the RB is clogging the lane). Hewitt still has work to do to finish the rush effectively, and his understanding of this is what makes the play impressive. Rather than just rumbling through the gap, Hewitt throws a bull-rush on the center to create a better angle to the quarterback. Hewitt sheds and picks up a sack on Jarrett Stidham, seen below.
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