Multifaceted Fox Thrilled With New Defensive Scheme
CHAPEL HILL – The way Tomon Fox sees it, big things are coming from North Carolina’s football team.
He won’t speak much for the Tar Heels’ offense, although he’s comfortable identifying leaders on the other side of the ball, but he’s quite happy to boast about the direction the new-look UNC defense is headed under the direction of coordinator Jay Bateman.
After all, the changes implemented this past spring should take fuller use of the defensive end’s intriguing cadre of skills and showcase his versatility to the next level. Needless to say, Fox likes the new defense. A lot.
“I’m definitely more involved in the coverage, but as far as a pass rusher, that’s still my main priority, we just have more multiple fronts,” he said.
He will be more involved in pass coverage when the Tar Heels are in their base defense but not as often when they’re in nickel, Fox said.
He’s okay either way, as he’s using his wide range of skills trying to help the Tar Heels win games while showing the guys in the Sunday league what he can do.
“I love that because it makes me look diverse with what I do; not just a rusher, I can drop back,” Fox said. “I can do a little bit of everything.”
His approach will fluctuate, however. While Fox plans on being more upright than before and almost serve as an outside linebacker playing at the line of scrimmage sometimes, there are situations that will demand he always be in at least a three-point stance.
“When I know it’s run and I’m in that (four-man front), I’m putting my hand on the ground because I’m not trying to take a double team when I’m standing up,” he said, smiling.
This is an important season for Fox with respect to his football future. He’s a fourth-year junior but has missed time with an injury his first year and serving a suspension a year ago.
Since UNC’s game versus Central Florida last September was canceled due to Hurricane Florence, the Tar Heels played just 11 games, but Fox played in only eight because of a three-game suspension for his role in what became known as “Shoe Gate.” It would have been four games with a full schedule, but the suspension was for 30 percent of Carolina’s contests and the NCAA always rounds down in favor of the athlete.
Fox turned in a solid season, registering 27 tackles, 17 of which were solos. He had 8.5 tackles for a loss of 38 yards, which included 2.5 sacks and was credited with seven quarterback hurries, forced two fumbles and blocked a kick.
The Lawrenceville, GA, native played in the first two games of the 2016 season as a true freshman before injuring his knee in practice and missing the rest of the year. He played in all 12 games as a redshirt freshman in 2017 registering 23 tackles and was second on the team with four sacks. He had eight QB hurries and forced a fumble.
Now he’s sort of a grizzled veteran even though he’s played in just 20 college games. Fox has experienced such a range of adversity already but is so excited about what’s ahead for the Tar Heels.
“More energy, really,” he replied, when asked about the difference between now and last fall when the Tar Heels went 2-9 after going 3-9 the season before. “Everybody is ready for their new role, they’re ready for what we’re about to do here, they’re just excited for it.”
One of the reasons for optimism around the program is Fox helping Aaron Crawford anchor a defensive line that could be pretty solid. Crawford, a defensive tackle, basically missed all of last season with an injury but is back and 100 percent healthy. Fox, however, could be the defense’s catalyst.
"Tomon is smart, he's physical, he’s got a lot of athletic ability and he will be one of our best players and I think one of our best leaders,” UNC Coach Mack Brown said. “So, we are excited about him.”
And he’s excited about the staff and everything surrounding UNC football.