At the start of each season, coaches have a sense of the strengths and weaknesses for their team. For the 2005 Rams it was thought that the strength of the defense would be in the safeties.
The main reason for such confidence was due to the return of senior leader Ben Stratton. But the nature of football took over and Stratton was lost for the year with a torn anterior cruciate ligament and a torn meniscus in his right knee before the first game.
The Rams were lucky though; they had senior back up. Fifth-year senior Miles Kochevar had already been inserted into the free safety position before Stratton's injury. And waiting to fill in for Stratton was senior Travis Garcia.
Garcia has stepped up and filled in strong at the safety position. The Rams' defense style calls for sturdy safety positions, which is taken from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers of the National Football League.
The safeties are counted on for over the top support as well as man coverage on tight ends and slot receivers. They're also counted on to help with run support, giving them two major responsibilities.
The top three tacklers on last year's team were all safeties with graduate Adam Lancisero leading the way, followed by Stratton and Kochevar. While the dual responsibility is a lot to take on, this year's safeties wouldn't have it any other way.
"I like the fact that we get to come up and hit guys all the time," Garcia said. "The safety position is supposed to be where your playmakers are and that's what we need to prove."
While the Ram safeties have knocked around a number of ball carriers in the first two games, with Garcia third on the team in tackles and Kochevar fifth, the tandem has also done great work on pass defense.
Kochevar leads the team with five pass breakups, including one interception.
Other than the statistical realm of leading the team, the two safeties are also leaders for a defense that is still trying to come together.
"Now with two losses, us seniors have taken it upon ourselves to improve this team and get better," Kochevar said. "We're now the underdogs again. We have nothing to lose, so we might as well go out there and prove ourselves to this conference."
Garcia and Kochevar, along with the injured Stratton, have helped to aid in the development of young safeties waiting their turn to start, such as walk-on redshirt freshman Mike Pagnotta. Pagnotta is currently second on the depth chart at strong safety, behind Garcia.
"I never thought I would be in this situation this soon, it's unfortunate it had to happen like this, with someone getting hurt," Pagnotta said. "These guys know the defense really well, I just try to emulate them. It's a lot easier to be able to watch them and duplicate what they do."
One thing to teach the younger players is how to send a message physically, and with Mountain West Conference teams improving, the duo knows if they can do anything to slow the opposition it has to be done now.
"There's no weak link in the Mountain West Conference anymore," Kochevar said. "If we can get some hits early then maybe we can change some thoughts about our defense throughout the rest of the league."