March 14, 2012

Spring practice Two-a-Days: Defensive Backs

Along with wide receivers, Western Michigan has had the most success sending cornerbacks and safeties to the next level than any other position. As we sit just two days from spring practice, there are certainly players with the potential to make the jump to the NFL on the roster, but they will have to continue to make improvements to their game.

Before getting to the corners that will lead the way for the Broncos come fall, there is news of a previously very little-known player that WMU fans will want to watch for come fall.

Out of Atlantic High School in Delray Beach, Fla., 5-foot-10 inch Ronald Zamort enters his second year with the program, but has flown completely under the radar to this point. Nonetheless, head coach Bill Cubit raves about Zamort and his potential.

"He may be one of the fastest guys we've got on the team, with great cover skills," Cubit said. "Physically, he's just got to get himself a little stronger, but we're really excited about his cover skills."

Zamort came into the program very late in the process as a member of the class of 2011.

"He was kind of an emergency guy for us [last year] in case something happened, but fortunately we didn't have to play him. The kid can fly, and he knows a lot because he was on the scout team," Cubit said.

You can see highlights of Zamort from his high school days below.

The top two cornerback slots are filled fairly solidly, with rising junior Lewis Toler leading the way. A former Freshman All-American, the 5-foot-10, 172 pound Toler routinely draws the toughest assignment from the opposing team, and displays the best cover and tackling skills on the team at the position. This will be very valuable for the young WMU receivers in spring, to go up against an experienced and physical defensive back. Toler did, however, have a relatively down year as a sophomore, failing to record an interception. Cubit expects more of the talented corner starting this spring, saying that Toler admitted to having a subpar offseason last year but has worked hard this year to avoid a repeat.

At the other corner slot, Donald Celiscar has nailed down the job after coming on strong midseason last year. 5-foot-11, 175 pound Celiscar played in eleven games last year, including starting the last four. He had an interception, five pass breakups, and two forced fumbles.

"He really grew, I thought, when he got a shot about a third of the way through the season," Cubit said. "I think he's going to be a really good player for us, he's a big physical guy that can run."

Third on the depth chart at the moment is Garrett Smith, of Pompano, Fla., who was in the mix at the second corner spot all of last year but was beat out late by Celiscar. Smith will be a sophomore, another young corner with good size at 5-foot-10.

Cubit indicated that Tronic Williams, a 6-foot-1, 195 pound junior from Fort Myers, Fla. is still bothered by injury, but Cubit is hoping that he will give an idea of what he's capable of in the spring.

At the hybrid rover spot, 6-foot, 180 pound Johnnie Simon of West Palm Beach, Fla. returns after a very successful sophomore season, his first as a starter. Simon led WMU with 114 total tackles, and was all over the field pass rushing, run supporting, and covering receivers.

Cubit named Simon along with Demetrius Pettway and Rontavious Atkins as leaders at safety. Pettway's biggest asset is his blazing speed, which he uses to keep up with top receivers as he plays "center field" for the Broncos. Atkins played extensively as a true freshman, making a lasting impression on Western Michigan fans when he forced a game-ending fumble at Connecticut. While he will have to work on certain mental aspects of the game, he has the tools to be great at WMU.

Justin Currie surprised some fans last year, as the Big Rapids product grabbed more playing time than expected. With good size at 6-foot-3 and 192 pounds, he possesses impressive cover skills and will look to earn more playing time this spring.

"Currie played a little for us last year, but I think he's got a lot of potential. He's had a good offseason," Cubit said.

Jon Henry is a 6-foot, 173 pound former track star out of Kentwood, Mich. who has intrigued Bronco fans with his blazing speed. Henry was the state champion in the 100 meters in 2009, and ran a 4.32 forty yard dash in high school. While he is not expected to be in the mix for regular playing time at safety, Cubit indicated he may have a shot at kick and punt returns.

As is the WMU tradition, the secondary should be a relative strength for the defense this fall, and in the spring there is plenty for the fan to look for in terms of storylines, starting with the emergence of Zamort.

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