Miller moving from CB to safety

KU sophomore Tyrone Miller stretches out during Tuesday's practice.

KU sophomore Tyrone Miller stretches out during Tuesday's practice.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Whether it was Biletnikoff Award winner Corey Coleman of Baylor, TCU monster Josh Doctson or Oklahoma standout Sterling Shepard, Kansas University freshman Tyrone Miller lined up against some of the best wide receivers in the country during his first season of college football.

Now, those days are over.

Miller, a 6-foot, 185-pound sophomore from Ann Arbor, Mich., said Wednesday during a break from spring practices that the coaching staff moved him back to his natural position of safety just after winter break.

For Miller, who started seven games, played in all 12 and finished 2015 with 56 tackles, the move marks a return to the position he played during his first three seasons of high school.

And, even though he enjoyed the enormous challenge of squaring off, one-on-one, against the best of the best in college football last season, he also said he was happy to be back at a position that allows him to be more involved with the entire game.

“It feels good,” said Miller, talking to the media for the first time because of KU coach David Beaty’s rule against freshmen doing interviews. “I’m comfortable back there. I can be more patient, and I can see what’s going on. At corner, I just have to stare at this one man, but I like reading offenses and coming up and hitting and making plays on the ball.”

Despite the challenges and frequent frustrations of playing cornerback in the Big 12 — Miller also lined up at cornerback as a senior in high school — the second-year Jayhawk said he learned a few tools a season ago that will make him an even better safety.

Skills such as proper footwork, eyes following the play and adjusting to the speed of the game all became easier as the 2015 season progressed. And now, Miller said, those things are second nature.

“It helped a lot,” Miller said of being forced into action a season ago. “I’m more calm now and I can play faster. I just need to be more consistent. Sometimes I’d be locking a guy up and other times it would just get out of hand out there.”

By sliding into the free safety position and playing next to senior strong safety Fish Smithson, Miller said his comfort level on the field had grown a great deal.

“He teaches me a lot,” Miller said of Smithson, now in his third season with the program. “Every time I saw Fish’s demeanor, he was so relaxed, so I’m trying to play like that, too. We don’t talk about it, but he pushes me to be better. I want to be the best, but I know he also wants to be the best.”

Smithson, who marveled at Miller’s advanced understanding of the game and obvious desire to improve, said he expected big things from Miller in 2016.

“I was just talking to (cornerbacks) coach (Kenny) Perry a couple days ago, letting him know that I really like working with this guy,” Smithson said of Miller. “He’s a sponge and he just absorbs everything he possibly can to make himself better. You can talk to him about anything. You can let him know when he’s doing good and tell him to keep it up and it doesn’t go to his head. It just builds his confidence.”

As for the best advice he had given Miller about playing safety in the Big 12, Smithson said his words of wisdom actually had nothing to do with the position at all.

“Really, just not getting complacent or getting entitled,” he said. “A lot of guys can get to this level, but what are you gonna do from here? Are you gonna be the same player you were as a freshman or are you gonna take steps and grow?”