The next Michael Bennett?
That is asking a lot. Then again, few Seattle fans had ever heard of Bennett before the Seahawks signed him as a free agent in 2013, just as few had never heard of Kerry Hyder Jr. when they agreed to sign him March 23.
Coincidence alone does not make a good pass rusher. But having Bennett, a Texas kid who went undrafted out of Texas A&M, mentor Hyder, a Texas kid who went undrafted out of Texas Tech, when both were Dallas Cowboys, does help move the needle from admiration to emulation.
“That’s the guy I’ve looked up to,” Hyder said Thursday in a video conference. “I modeled my game after him. The characteristics were there, the same body type. That’s kind of one of the reasons why I was trying to picture myself in Seattle.”
In his five years in Seattle, Bennett was a central figure in one of the NFL’s greatest defenses. Accumulating 39 sacks and three Pro Bowl appearances, Bennett, at 270 pounds, was, as Hyder said, neither the biggest nor fastest guy, but perhaps the annoying-est guy to quarterbacks.
“It is technique and what he knows about the game,” said Hyder, who spent 2019 in Dallas, now his home, when Bennett was acquired for the final nine games. “I just tried to milk his brain as much as I could . . . just learning from the veteran, soaking it all in. He might not tell you something, but it’s being around him every day.”
The result was impressive in 2020. Signing with the 49ers, Hyder, 30 in May, became a starter when star pass rushers Nick Bosa and Dee Ford went down for the season with injuries. Hyder led San Francisco with 8.5 sacks, and earned a free agent deal with the Seahawks for what amounts two years and $6.5 million, with a voidable third year at $10 million.
Hyder’s arrival appears to have set the table for the Seahawks’ starting D-line line at a fairly high level.
The Seahawks brought back DE Carlos Dunlap out of free agency, extended DT Poona Ford’s deal, and re-signed free agent Al Woods, who opted out of 2020, to a one-year deal for $2.5 million, with $750,000 guaranteed, according to ESPN. They kept run-stuffer Brian Mone in the interior rotation, and also have as designated blitzer SS Jamal Adams, who set an NFL record for defensive backs with 9.5 sacks.
The group is a major uptick from the start of the 2020 season, when the defense as a whole (hole?) was statistically the worst since high tide met the first sand castle.
After Dunlap’s midseason arrival and the return to health of Adams and others, Seattle had a defensive unit in the second half that was second to none.
“I just feel like sky’s the limit,” Dunlap told reporters earlier in the week. “I feel like we were able to accomplish some great things last season in such a short period of time. I wanted an opportunity to build on that.”
As with Bennett, Hyder has the versatility to move from end to tackle, a high virtue with the Seahawks. The ability to disguise and change the direction of the pressure was an underrated asset in the Legion of Boom days.
“I can play inside and outside,” Hyder said. “I’m just super-excited to see what I can add to the group. There’s already great players. I just want to add myself to the group and see what I can bring.”
Hyder fits the profile for the strongside end while leaving Dunlap to the Cliff Avril rush role on the other side. Rasheem Green and L.J. Collier will alternate with Hyder. Dunlap rotates with Benson Mayowa, Alton Robinson and Darrell Taylor, the second-round draft pick who missed his rookie year with an injury.
Now with his fifth pro team, Hyder has bounced around and down — he missed the 2017 season with a torn Achilles tendon — and figures to have plenty of tread left after years as a backup.
“There’s some young legs right here — I’ve still got a lot of time left,” he said. “I feel like I’ve embraced the journey. I’ve prepared for every moment, especially this one.
“Feeling wanted, and someone bringing you in — that’s what I’ve been yearning for is respect in the league.”
If he emulates his fellow Texan on the field — no one can expect him to be king of the podium like Bennett — the Seahawks are already miles ahead of where they were last September.