Jovan Swann is a competitive guy, so of course the grad transfer from Stanford entered Indiana’s locker room with big goals.
After four years in the Cardinal’s 3-4 scheme, the 6-foot-2, 280-pound defensive tackle wanted to be a “dominant” player in the Hoosiers’ 4-3 front. He wanted to be “that guy” on Day 1.
Only the body can’t do what the mind can’t conceive.
“Playing too fast, you make a lot of mistakes,” Swann said. “You slow things down, you’re able to assess and analyze, you know, what to fix and then how to go climb the ladder from that point.”
Swann’s performance early in fall camp was, admittedly, not the best. As he tried to learn how to play “shaded” off of an offensive lineman’s shoulder, rather than head-up, he wasn’t quite taking on blocks the right way. In his attempts to play fast, Swann wasn’t quite reading and reacting as he should.
He was falling far short of his goals, stressing himself out.
But with that Stanford education, it didn’t take Swann too long to sort things out. IU defensive line coach Kevin Peoples wasn’t surprised, either, when the Center Grove alum started to come on.
“When Jovan walks in the room, I know I’m definitely not the smartest guy in the room,” Peoples said. “He’s a smart guy, he’s a veteran that’s been around. He knows how to handle himself.”
Like a pro, Peoples added.
Swann has a pen in hand for every film session, absorbing everything. Rotating in behind redshirt senior Jerome Johnson at the three-technique defensive tackle, he’s focused on raising the level of the entire line rather than just advancing his own interests.
If he continues to progress, Swann has the potential to bring a much-needed element to the Hoosiers’ front four. He started 19 games for Stanford over the last two seasons, totaling 10 sacks and 15 tackles for loss. But even with that kind of production, Swann had to prove himself on a new team.
“Coming in, I basically placed myself at the bottom of the totem pole,” Swann said. “I jumped the gun at the beginning. But now I understand it’s good competition here at the three-tech spot. At any spot, really, across the line.”
IU does appear to have more depth on the defensive line than was the case heading into 2019. Last year, tackle Demarcus Elliott turned into a pleasant surprise, going from junior college transfer to honorable mention All-Big Ten player. Sio Nofoagatoto’a, a sophomore, also flashed promise on the interior.
Swann, Johnson, Elliott, and Nofoagatoto’a, along with freshmen C.J. Person and Damarjhe Lewis, all have a chance to contribute at tackle. On the ends, Peoples hopes for big things from veterans like Michael Ziemba and James Head Jr., while Jonathan King, Jeramy Passmore, and Lance Bryant also hold promise.
As a group, IU’s line wants to create more negative plays. The Hoosiers finished ninth in the conference in sacks last season, collecting 27. Sixteen of those were by linemen, including five each for Johnson and graduated senior Allen Stallings.
“The biggest thing … whether it’s four or five guys, we gotta rush as a unit, and we gotta work together to keep that quarterback in the pocket, keep him contained, get him off his spot,” Peoples said. “So that’s the biggest thing we are trying to do, win one-on-one battles, but at the same time, it’s four guys rushing as one.”
Not only is Swann able to penetrate off the snap, but he is actively trying to thrust knowledge into his teammates’ minds, so they can collectively attack opposing offenses.
“You can tell he’s smart. His football IQ is off the chain,” Head said. “All the time, if something (is) on the screen (watching film) … he’ll let me know. Just his football IQ, he’s been helping me out.”
While teammates and coaches are throwing compliments Swann’s way, he will return the favor.
Even as he’s still learning everyone’s names and grades following a chopped-up offseason, the Hoosiers are making a positive impression with the Stanford transfer.
“It shocked me, because I stepped on the field and I was like ‘Oh you’ve been here for a few years.’ ‘Oh no, this is my second year,’ or ‘I’m a fifth-year, what year are you?’ ‘I’m just a redshirt sophomore.’ I’m like ‘Wow, you guys play like veterans,’” Swann said. “And when the pads come on, you can’t really tell. I’ve played multiple games, bowl games, Pac-12 Championship, and the style of play we have here, just in practice alone, is at a high level.”
In particular, Swann feels the in-practice competition with Jerome Johnson has been valuable.
“There’s no day you can slack here, especially at the three-tech spot,” Swann said, also referencing Person and Lewis. “Those are some talented dudes. Just seeing how well they perform makes me want to perform even better every day … because at the end of the day, we’re all fighting for reps.”
The way he’s performed at practice, Peoples seems poised to give Swann his share of snaps versus Penn State.
“His improvement the last couple weeks has been drastic … very pleased with where he’s at,” Peoples said. “We’re looking very much forward to what he can do when next Saturday comes.”
(above photo courtesy of IU Athletics)