Over the years, one specific way that the Pete Carroll-era Seahawks like to use some of their defensive linemen has come to be named after the man who did it the best — Michael Bennett.
During his five years with the Carroll-era Seahawks from 2013-17, Bennett’s primary job was to play as a strongside defensive end (meaning, lining up over the tight end’s side), opposite speed pass-rushers on the other end such as Cliff Avril or Frank Clark.
But on passing downs, Bennett moved inside to play tackle. At a listed 275 pounds, Bennett was often at a weight disadvantage. But he made up for it with quickness, smarts and instincts to become one of the best and most disruptive defensive linemen in team history (his 39 sacks remain the seventh-most in team history).
Since Bennett was traded in the spring of 2018, the Seahawks have tried multiple players in that “Michael Bennett role” with varying degrees of success, such as Quinton Jefferson and L.J. Collier. It’s also the position Jadeveon Clowney would have played more fully had he re-signed after the 2019 season.
Now it’s Kerry Hyder’s turn to see if he can make that role his own in Seattle.
Hyder, one of two significant new free-agent additions to Seattle’s defense (the other being former 49ers teammate Ahkello Witherspoon), signed a two-year deal worth up to $6.5 million. He got that contract in the wake of a season in which he had a career-high 8 1/2 sacks with the 49ers in what was his first year as a full-time starter. (The contract also includes a voidable year for 2023, which is why it is sometimes also referred to as a three-year contract).
Hyder, 29, has never before made more than $1.6 million in a season or signed a contract for longer than a year.
So, Seattle’s commitment undoubtedly helped sway him.
But so did the idea of trying to fill the shoes of Bennett, a player Hyder got to know when the two were teammates in 2019 with the Dallas Cowboys. Bennett played the final nine games of that season with Dallas, in what might stand as the final games of his NFL career.
“That’s the guy I’ve looked up to and kind of modeled my game after,’’ said Hyder on Thursday when he held an introductory Zoom session with reporters. “That’s who I watch — same body type, that kind of thing.’’
Indeed, Hyder is listed at 6-2, 275, pretty much a spitting image of Bennett’s listed 6-4, 275.
What they also share in common is making it to the NFL as an undrafted free agent after playing at a college in Texas — Hyder at Texas Tech and Bennett at Texas A&M.
And what they also share is being something of a late-bloomer — Bennett being famously released in his first go-round with the Seahawks in 2009 without playing in a game not becoming a full-time starter until he was 26.
Hyder said the Seahawks mentioned Bennett and the role he played when they began conversations with him during free agency.
“That’s kind of one of the reasons why I was kind of picturing myself in Seattle,’’ said Hyder, who added he has ample experience playing inside. “I can kind of see myself in that same type of role as Mike.’’
Hyder agreed to terms with Seattle two days before it was announced Seattle had also agreed to terms with Carlos Dunlap, a 1-2 punch that quickly solidified the team’s defensive line.
With Hyder as the likely “big’’ defensive end in the starting base defense, Dunlap will again play the LEO, or rush end, role. Players such as Collier and Rasheem Green will also rotate with Hyder as able to play both end and tackle, while Benson Mayowa, Alton Robinson and Darrell Taylor will rotate with Dunlap. This allows Seattle to get two rushers on the field in the nickel when Hyder or other “big ends’’ move inside to tackle.
Hyder knows that role — and any mention of trying to duplicate Bennett’s production — comes with some pressure.
But expectations are also something he said he was looking for when he hit free agency, especially considering the sometimes rough road it took to get to this point.
After finally playing in an NFL game in 2015 with the Lions, he appeared to be breaking through when he had eight sacks in 2016 with Detroit. But as an exclusive-rights free agent, all he could get was a one-year deal worth $540,000 for the next season with the Lions.
He then suffered a torn Achilles tendon in the first preseason game in 2017 and missed the entire year. He was able to return for seven games in 2018.
That led to a one-year deal with Dallas in 2019 in which he began to get his career back on track, playing in all 16 games and making one sack.
That led to another one-year deal with the 49ers last season, where he started to become the player he’d looked on the verge of becoming in 2016. In 2020, he played a career-high 722 snaps with a career-best 55 total pressures, which ranked 40th out of 109 defensive ends according to Pro Football Focus.
“Hyder knows how to win as a pass-rusher up front, ranking near the middle of the pack in pass-rush win percentage since 2018,’’ PFF wrote in its free-agency analysis.
Hyder turns 30 on May 2, but says because of his lack of the playing time early in his career “there’s some young legs right here. I’ve still got a lot of time left.’’
And, he said, he thinks his best is still to come.
“I feel like I’ve embraced the journey,’’ Hyder said. “It was a lot of ups and downs. But I’ve prepared for every moment, especially this one. I’m so excited to be a part of a group I can add to. I can add leadership, I can add play on the field. And feeling wanted and someone bringing you in — that’s what I’ve been yearning for is respect in the league, and being able to accomplish that was big. But I’ve just got to continue to stack days with my teammates and get better.
“I’ve got a lot of football left in me, that’s for sure.’’