Watching the Seahawks from afar during an NFL career that saw him spend time with four teams over seven seasons, Kerry Hyder Jr. could always envision himself playing in Seattle someday.
"I've always been kind of drawn to the organization, and when I had the opportunity, I jumped on it and was excited it was presented to me," said Hyder, who signed with the Seahawks as a free agent last month.
And a big reason why Hyder could see himself ending up in Seattle is that the player he calls his idol, Michael Bennett, spent five seasons thriving in Seattle's defense. The comparisons are easy enough to see. Both are from Texas, both went undrafted—Bennett out of Texas A&M and Hyder out of Texas Tech—and both fought the dreaded "tweener" label before establishing themselves as versatile pass rushers who can played defensive end or defensive tackle.
"That's a guy I've looked up to in the league and a guy I've kind of modeled my game after," Hyder said. "The characteristics were there, that's who I watched—same body type, that kind of thing. That's one of the reasons I always kind of pictured myself in Seattle, because I can kind of see myself in that same type of role as Mike."
So it's no surprise that when Hyder describes his game, he points to one of the main traits that made Bennett a three-time Pro-Bowler in Seattle.
"Versatility, being able to line up inside and outside," Hyder said. "I've been blessed to be able to play every position on the D-line, so I think that's just helped me get on the field."
Asked what that means for his role in Seattle, Hyder added, "They want to try to use me the best way they can, whether that's inside or outside. I've always been a defensive lineman who kind of gets in where he fits in, so if they need me inside, I'm scrapping it up inside; if I've got to play outside, I'll play outside. I'm definitely coming in as a defensive end and that's where I plan spending the majority of my time."
As an undrafted player, Hyder took some time to establish himself in the NFL. He spent his rookie season on the Jets' practice squad, then went to Detroit where he again spent most of the year on the practice squad until a call-up to the 53-man roster for the final game of the season.
"I was undrafted out of Texas Tech and I spent a couple of seasons on practice squad," he said. "I was one of those guys who kind of worked up through the ranks. I went from practice squad to a rotational guy to a starter to an IR guy, and back up to being a starter. I've been through the wire, and you see a vet at the end of it. I just kept working and I was able to get my opportunity here in Seattle."
The first breakout year for Hyder came in 2016 when he made the roster for the Lions out of camp, played all 16 games and recorded 8.0 sacks, but unfortunately that was followed by torn Achilles the following preseason that cause him to miss all of the 2017 season. After another season in Detroit and one in Dallas that produced a total of 2.0 sacks and 23 tackles, Hyder had breakout No. 2 in San Francisco last season, stepping into a starting role early in the year due to injuries, and going on to record team highs in sacks (8.5), quarterback hits (17) and tackles for loss (10).
"I would say it was really the opportunity," he said. "A couple of years ago I had a big sack season also, but it's just the plays, being able to play and not be a spot-duty player. The coaches trusting in you and allowing you to play, that's what helped it. I always felt like I could rush and felt like I could play well, I just felt like the right coach had to believe in me and let me play."
Last year's big season, combined with the timing of Hyder becoming a free agent, created a very different scenario than the ones he had faced for most of his career when he was a player trying to make a roster or trying to establish a role for himself. In 2021, Hyder was a player with options, and player the Seahawks made a move to sign early in free agency.
"I felt like I embraced that journey," he said. "It was a lot of ups and downs, but I prepare 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. Feeling wanted and someone bringing you in, that's what I've been yearning for—respecting the league. Being able to accomplish that as big but, I've just got to continue to stack days with my teammates and get better. I got a lot of football, that's for sure."
And if there's an upside to a career that included two seasons on the practice squad and one on IR, it is that Hyder, who turns 30 next month, doesn't have the wear and tear on his body that most players his age would.
"I had an unorthodox journey to the NFL, so I might not have the mileage guys have on their legs," he said. "I had time on the practice squad, I had time where I was able to sit out. I know it may say 30, but these are some young legs right here. I've still got a lot of time left."