Notes: Fitzgerald, Swann continue to progress for IU defense

There are some things Indiana’s Marcelino Ball can’t give his replacement at the husky position, Bryant Fitzgerald.

At 6-foot, 220 pounds, there are 10 fewer pounds on Fitzgerald’s frame. An athlete who can run a 4.4-second 40-yard dash but also benches over 400 pounds, Ball can’t just give those power to his counterpart like the Monstars stole basketball skill from NBAers.

But the fifth-year senior, so ideally built for the Hoosiers’ hybrid safety-linebacker spot, has gifted Fitzgerald one tangible thing since his season-ending ACL injury in fall camp.

His time.

“He was the most encouraging guy I have ever seen after an injury,” Fitzgerald said. “He’s been helping me every day. He is trying to teach me his techniques, his knowledge of the game, to help me better my game.”

Fitzgerald, who initially moved from safety to husky in the spring, admits he still has a lot to learn. Playing the bulk of his high school and college careers at traditional safety, Fitzgerald hasn’t blitzed much. So the 6-foot, 209-pound redshirt junior from Indianapolis has consulted with the Hoosiers’ defensive line coaches, looking to add pass-rush techniques to his arsenal.

There are also run fits and coverage responsibilities Fitzgerald is urgently trying to perfect as the Hoosiers close in on their opener with No. 9 Penn State. Luckily, Ball is still there to assist.

“He’s staying in the playbook,” Fitzgerald said, “and him helping me out with my film and preparation has really been key.”

Fitzgerald is readying himself to play an important role in the Hoosiers’ 4-2-5. And it’s a challenge he embraces.

“It’s more free, and you can express your athleticism at that position,” Fitzgerald said. “Me, personally, I like playing more in space. That’s what you gotta do at husky.”

At the same time, IU defensive coordinator Kane Wommack admitted it’s a “body blow” to not have the versatile frame and skillset of Ball on the field.

Wommack is game-planning around Ball’s absence, looking at a more NFL-like, “package-oriented” approach to the husky position. IU could field different players when the Hoosiers are trying to add more in terms of the pass rush or in coverage.

Of course, Wommack isn’t saying who those players are just yet.

“It just changes the bodies on the field in those given situations,” Wommack said. “We re excited about a couple of guys that can do those things in certain packages. I don’t want to give those things away right now.”

Swann adjusting

Fitzgerald is one player continuing to make progress with his transition from one position to another. But another Indy native is also starting to shallow his learning curve in IU’s scheme.

Jovan Swann, the Center Grove alum and Stanford grad transfer, was a little slow out of the gate this fall. That was expected as he transitioned from playing in a base three-man front at Stanford to IU’s four-man alignment.

According to Wommack, the 6-2, 280-pounder seemed to make a turn for the better this past week in practice.

“The way we take on blocks and the way we recognize blocks, he is starting to understand that on a much higher level,” Wommack said. “He’s a smart guy, so his learning curve from last week to this week was pretty significant, in a positive manner.”

Swann just adds to the depth the Hoosiers have on the defensive line. At defensive tackle, Jerome Johnson, DeMarcus Elliott, Sio Nofoagatoto’a, C.J. Person, and Swann are likely to see significant time. The question is if someone like freshman Damarjhe Lewis can push for snaps early. Wommack said he feels like the Hoosiers are five-deep at both the tackle and end spots.

Swann started nine games for Stanford in 2019 and was second on the team with 5.5 sacks.

“Excited about what he’s going to do for us,” Wommack said, “and I think if he continues on this trajectory, we’ll be very happy with the outcome and his production.”

TE depth

The theme of five-deep also transitions over to the offensive side, where new IU tight ends coach Kevin Wright was boasting about the depth in his room Friday.

A reliance on greater numbers was somewhat out of necessity, as the Hoosiers dealt with injury issues in the summer. In particular, redshirt junior Peyton Hendershot had conversations with the coaching staff about opting out if the season started on-time, because he was still recovering from offseason surgeries.

The delay helped there, but Wright said grad transfer tight end Kham Taylor has also been dealing with some injury issues.

“We know it’s going to be a long season. Not pushing some things, and just trying to get him to a point where he’s ready to come in and contribute, because he’s a big body,” Wright said of the 6-4, 265-pounder from South Alabama. “When he lines up out there, it almost looks like, at times, he’s an extra offensive tackle.  .. I know what he brings to the table. It’s a matter of getting everyone healthy and rolling through to get to game week.

“It’s going to be a nine-week season and everyone has to contribute in some way, shape, or form.”

There are a myriad of options in the room. While Taylor profiles more as an additional blocker, redshirt freshman Gary Cooper is a 6-2, 235-pound option who is deployable as a pass-catcher. Freshman AJ Barner has frequently been mentioned early as a possible contributor, as well, standing 6-6, 230.

Junior Matt Bjorson has just 12 catches in his IU career, but Wright expressed faith that the Hoosiers’ “blue-collar” tight end could be a more well-rounded option in 2020.

“He’s right there, in my mind, with Peyton, to have the ability to go in,” Wright said. “Where he’ll lag sometimes in physical size, he’s going to make up for it with heart. He’s a guy who finishes to the whistle. I think Matt is a guy who can plug and play.”

Knocking on doors

Wommack previously noted the impression freshman safety Bryson Bonds has made with his “professional” attitude.

This week, Wommack offered another anecdote to explain why the 6-1, 200-pounder from Crowley, Texas, has been so impressive.

“When they were staying in the hotel in the summer time, he’d go down the hallway and knock on people’s doors to make sure the freshmen were up for a  6 a.m. run,” Wommack said. “Stuff like that is impressive. And it shows up on the field.”

Last year, it was another secondary player, Tiawan Mullen, who proved to be a leader for his class, calling it the “New Wave.” Bonds seems to be captaining the next wave.

Simply put, the Hoosier coaching staff loves what Bonds has added on and off the field in his short time with the program. He will very much be in the mix to play early, especially with senior Raheem Layne sidelined following a surgery.

13 comments

  1. I am excited about the depth and quality of players IUFB has this season. We will have to wait and see if they can play up to the hype they have built up with this team. Thankfully they open with PSU and have a chance to show everyone IU is a team to fear this year, for a change after years of disappointments.

    Keep everyone healthy will go along way to creating a very good season. So far, IU isn’t off to a good start on the injury scene but it shouldn’t create too many problems this season with the two injuries right now.

    1. There’s a possibility he could walk on, though I’m not sure he’s willing to pass on scholarship offers from smaller schools. But they’re keeping an eye on him as a possible PWO.

    2. Curry is the one we really need to get from Center Grove. Steele may prove in another year he should play in the B1G but even Spegal after gaining over 10K yards and more than 75 TDs had to go the walk-on route to get to a B1G school. Unless you have great size or speed at RB you don’t get scholarships to go to B1G schools or anywhere else at P5 schools – the great Walter Peyton didn’t get to a P5 school before starring in the NFL.

      1. Payton….with an ‘a.’ V. Just think of Gayle Sayers (more ‘ay’).

        Broke my heart to hear Sayers passed away. I still believe Sayers to be the best running back ever. Ran the ball with such flare…Light on his feet yet so powerful. Could cut 90 degrees and not lose a step. Pure magic and style. And did so much of his magical runs on terrible grounds and conditions at Wrigley.

        I don’t know Steele’s straight up speed…He didn’t exactly look slow. I just thought he had great instincts. Also very impressed with his lower body strength and the size of his legs. The coached called his number repeatedly and his great stamina was also getting my attention.

        Isn’t Curry (if that’s the other back on Center Grove) a junior?

          1. Harv, I can’t agree that Gale Sayers was the best running back ever, but I don’t think anyone can disagree that he was the most beautiful to watch, ever.

        1. I may have the name wrong but the DE on Center Grove that is ranked #1 in the state and major schools along with IU recruiting him – he is very talented.

        2. Daniel Weems is the junior running back on Center Grove who I was trying to remember. Very promising as well. Over 100 yds against Carmel and 97 against Lawrence North.
          Of course, I have a limited sample, only watched one game against Lawrence North, but I was impressed by both Steele (Sr) and Weems (Jr).

  2. I watched Eric Moore, the Center Grove coach win a couple of state titles 30 years ago at Punta Gorda Fl.. The years they did not win it all they were in the mix. He was Coach of the year couple of times. Doing the same thing for Center Grove.

    And that Oklahoma – Texas game. Wow.

  3. I trust Coach Hart as a recruiter. He has proven he can identify running backs that become productive Big Ten Backs. If he makes an offer to a kid, it’s a pretty good bet that he has the talent and a lot of upside potential. And I think the new coach responsible for tight ends is also an excellent judge of talent given his years of experience. Last year’s productivity from IU’s tight ends may begin to improve IU’s ability to sign the best candidates in the state, not to mention the Midwest.

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