LARAMIE, Wyo. (AP) — Derrick LeBlanc came to Wyoming with one key priority.
"Stopping the run," UW's first-year defensive line coach, who was previously at LSU, said. "So we've been focusing on that."
Teams averaged 232 rushing yards a game against Wyoming in 2011, making the Pokes among the worst in the country at stopping the run. One of the most problematic examples happened in the Cowboys' 37-15 loss to Temple in the New Mexico Bowl. Temple ran the ball 51 times for 255 yards, churning up half a first down with practically every carry.
It was the exclamation point on a chronic problem Wyoming hopes to remedy this season.
"We've got to do a much better job slowing the run down, shutting the run down, eliminating rushing yards," Christensen said Wednesday.
A key is the performance of Wyoming's defensive ends.
"Defensive ends, they're kind of special," LeBlanc tells the Casper Star-Tribune (http://bit.ly/PtKxos ). "If you think about it, they've got to stop inside zones, cutbacks. They've got to stop outside zones, toss sweeps, reverse. They've got to do a little bit more than the tackles. They've got to have a little bit higher motors and some tenacity when they're out there."
Last year, Wyoming's defensive ends were a strength of the Cowboys' defense. Seniors Gabe Knapton and Josh Biezuns anchored the line at both ends, ending their senior seasons with All-Mountain West second-team recognitions. Further depleting the position was the transfer of senior Ben Durbin, who started during spring practices before transferring to use his final year of eligibility at Iowa State.
Since then, redshirt freshman Sonny Puletasi and senior Miraldo Michel, a highly touted junior-college transfer last season, have become the presumed starters at defensive ends.
Puletasi played in all 13 games last season, made eight tackles and forced a fumble. Michell, who arrrived at Wyoming after playing two years at Ellsworth Community College in Iowa, only has one game (Nebraska) under his belt. He is now participating fully after an injury limited his involvement in the spring.
"It's a big step for both of us, going into Gabe Knapton and Josh Biezuns' shoes," Puletasi said while standing next to Michel after practice Monday. "But we'll try to do better though."
In the first two weeks of camp, LeBlanc has taught Puletasi and Michel — along with redshirt freshman Eddie Yarbrough and a handful of other defensive ends — how to read and avoid blocking schemes designed to keep them from the ball. Whether it's hitting and driving a sled or shuffling sideways to keep an imaginary quarterback contained, LeBlanc offers calm, constructive advice.
"Good. There you go. Keep working" he tells the defensive ends, hoping it will result in a tougher run defense in the fall.
"They're taking coaching and they're wanting to be good, so that's half the battle," LeBlanc said. "As long as we keep practicing the right things, I think we'll be OK this season."