SEATTLE -- In 2013, the Seattle Seahawks struck free-agent gold when they signed Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril to inexpensive deals. The two pass-rushers proved to be the missing pieces for an emerging defense that led the Seahawks to their first Super Bowl title that season and a near repeat the next year.
The Seahawks hope that their current collection of pass-rushers has the same impact as those of their recent Super Bowl past. But in Kerry Hyder Jr., they have a player who's reminiscent of Bennett's physical profile and versatility.
General manager John Schneider told him as much when they signed him to what is effectively a two-year, $6.5 million deal last month.
Not that the comparison was any revelation to Hyder.
"That's a guy I've looked up to in the league and a guy I've kind of modeled my game after," he said. "So the characteristics were there because that's who I watch, same body type, that kind of thing. That's kind of one of the reasons why I always kind of pictured myself in Seattle because I can kind of see myself in that same type of role as Mike."
That role means playing mostly on the edge but also inside at times.
The two end positions in Pete Carroll's base 4-3 defense are known as the Leo and the 5-technique. The Leo is usually the smaller, quicker and more athletic of the two -- think Chris Clemons, Frank Clark and Avril. The 5-technique often lines up on the strong side of the formation, which requires a larger and stouter player. He'll move inside and replace a defensive tackle in passing situations, when less threat of a run means less need for bigger bodies to clog up the interior.
No one has filled that role better in Seattle than Bennett, whose 39 sacks over five seasons with the Seahawks are seventh-most in club history. He played roughly three-quarters of his snaps on the edge and the rest inside, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
"I've kind of always been a defensive lineman that kind of gets in where he fits in," Hyder said. "So if they need me to inside, I'm sure I can jump inside. If I have to play outside, I'll play outside. I'm definitely coming in to defensive end and [that's where] I plan on spending the majority of my time."
The 49ers had a similar plan for Hyder when they signed him to a one-year deal last offseason, as Carroll disciple Robert Saleh was still running their defense. But injuries to Nick Bosa and Dee Ford forced him to play almost exclusively on the edge -- and play a lot. His 8.5 sacks and 694 defensive snaps were career-highs.
Hyder's previous high in snaps (618) came in 2016 with the Lions, when he had 8.0 sacks. That was under defensive line coach Kris Kocurek, whom Hyder reunited with in San Francisco. In his other two seasons on an active roster (2018 and 2019), he combined for only two sacks in 23 games. He spent his first two seasons on the Jets' and Lions' practice squads after going undrafted in 2014. A torn Achilles sidelined him in 2017.
"I was one of those guys that kind of worked up through the ranks," Hyder said. "I went from practice squad to kind of rotational guy to a starter to an IR guy back up to a starter. I've been through the wire, and you see a vet at the end of it."
ESPN NFL analyst Louis Riddick called Hyder one of the most impressive players he saw up-close last season in the Monday Night Football booth "just in terms of how relentless he was."
DE Kerry Hyder was one of the most impressive players we got to watch up close last season on #MNF while with #49ers in terms just how relentless he was (as was the entire DL - the Kris Kocurek influence). Had his best seasons with Kocurek in Detroit and SF. How will his play...— Louis Riddick (@LRiddickESPN) March 24, 2021
Hyder thinks the overlap between Seattle's and San Francisco's defenses will ease his transition. He called Kocurek "instrumental in just believing in me as a player."
Along the way, not everyone has.
A native of Austin, Texas, Hyder wasn't offered a scholarship by the University of Texas even though he grew up in the Longhorns' backyard. He went undrafted despite combining for 7.5 sacks and 25 tackles for loss over his final two seasons at Texas Tech.
Hyder believes the same thing that contributed to Bennett going undrafted in 2009 also worked against him. Bennett was knocked for being a tweener. He wasn't as long or fast as a prototypical defensive end, not as heavy or powerful as a prototypical tackle.
At 6-foot-2 and 270 pounds, Hyder is a little shorter and around the same weight as Bennett. Neither player's build aces the eye test.
"We're not the biggest, we're not the strongest, we're not the fastest," Hyder said, "but I feel like his great career he's had is technique and it's savvy, it's what he knows about the game and that's kind of what I try to [do]."
Hyder was with the Cowboys in 2019 when they traded for Bennett midseason. He picked Bennett's brain as much as he could, knowing it was a rare opportunity to learn from someone he considered an "idol."
"How to break down O-linemen, how to implement your moves, just learning from a vet, soaking it all in," Hyder said. "He might not tell you something but being around him every day, you're going to pick up what you need."
Hyder does not have to match Bennett's production or his own from last season for his signing to be a success. As one piece of a deep group of pass-rushers that will feature Carlos Dunlap and Jamal Adams, he probably won't play as much as he did last year or as much as Bennett did once he became a starter in Seattle.
He's also less than a month away from his 30th birthday, making him two and a half years older than Bennett was when he signed with the Seahawks.
"I had an unorthodox journey to the NFL, so I might not have the mileage guys have on their legs," Hyder said. "I had time on practice squad and I had time where I was able to sit out, so I know it may say 30, but it's some young legs right here. I've still got a lot of time left."