CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Donnie Miles has been a physical presence in Gene Chizik’s secondary during his sophomore season.
Miles, a strong safety hailing from Miami, Fla., has emerged as the Tar Heels’ leading tackler through five games this season, tallying 42 tackles to go along with a tackle for loss and a pair of pass breakups. The 5-foot-11, 210-pounder has adjusted seamlessly from the Ram position he played in 2014 to safety, due to his familiarity with the position.
“Ram was a little bit different feel for me; it was more like a nickelback-type linebacker,” Miles said on Wednesday. “Now I feel like safety is something I did in high school, so I feel a lot better doing that.”
The recall of the position is something that has allowed Miles to shine in UNC’s secondary, according to defensive backs coach Charlton Warren.
“I think just giving him an opportunity to play probably what his natural position is (benefiting him),” Warren said. “I think that’s given him the opportunity to maybe showcase a different set of skills that maybe he wasn’t able to being so close to the ball.”
Miles knows his role clearly in North Carolina’s new 4-3 scheme, and has become something of an anchor for the secondary.
“Just getting guys in the right places, making sure we’re in the right checks, and making sure I do my job,” Miles said. “If I’m in run support, make sure I’m in run support, know the coverages and how they switch up.”
There were benefits to playing the Ram position as a freshman. The position made him play more as a linebacker than a safety, giving him an edge that most other safeties lack.
“It helped him from a physical standpoint of taking on blocks and at the point of attack, having to run his feet and go through a guy, because he makes some physical plays out there on the perimeter, knocking balls out of guys’ hands,” Warren said. “So I think that time of being a guy that has to have his face in the fire has helped him, and now moving him back with space, he’s able to take that and then close the distance and still make that same physical play.”
Miles has been a key component of a UNC pass defense that ranks fifth nationally in passing yards allowed (123.2) and seventh in passing efficiency defense (91.2).