BATON ROUGE, La. – LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis is trying to figure out fast which of more than a half-dozen true freshman will be able to handle crunch-time responsibilities when the Tigers enter the heart of their Southeastern Conference slate.
So far, eight true freshmen have seen playing time on the Tigers' defense, and at least that number could play again this Saturday night when No. 8 LSU (2-0) hosts five-touchdown underdog Kent State (1-1).
"We're counting on these guys for depth. Some of them are fighting to be starters," Chavis said. "You've got to see them play under fire. You've got to see who's going to let you expand what you're doing defensively and handle all concepts, mentally as well as physically."
While teams often allow a trickle of true freshmen onto the field in early season games, this is a little different for LSU, which has only three full-time starters returning from its 2012 defense after seven members of that unit were taken in the NFL draft last spring.
"Sometimes you're in a situation when you reload, you have to reload with young guys," Chavis said. "That's where we are and we'll continue this man hunt until we get the best 11 out there."
In LSU's opener against 24th-ranked TCU in Dallas, Kendell Beckwith saw snaps both as a linebacker and a pass-rushing defensive end. Christian LaCouture played at defensive tackle in the Tigers' 4-3 front.
Six more saw action in Week 2 against UAB: Defensive backs Tre'Davious White, Rashard Robinson and Rickey Jefferson; ends Tashawn Bower and Lewis Neal; and linebacker Duke Riley.
White took the field as the first-team cornerback in the second quarter in place of Jalen Collins and remained in that role after halftime.
Chavis said White's maturity is one of his greatest assets in this point in his career.
"All of them have talent. One thing White has is an air of confidence," Chavis said. "To play that position, you have to be very confident and tough-minded. You have to be able to forget plays in a hurry because you're not going to be able to win every battle. ... With his demeanor, he's much, much more mature than most freshmen when they arrive on campus."
Also standing out in the defensive backfield was Rashard Robinson, who only joined the team in the week leading up to the first game of the season because his eligibility was held up by an NCAA review of his academic standing. Less than two weeks after joining the program, he saw his first action as starter Jalen Mills' replacement.
Head coach Les Miles' said White's and Robinson's confidence stood out.
"They are not nervous. They have no slight jitters. I wasn't surprised that Rashard played so quickly. He always wants to know what to do. He has the athletic ability to play," Miles said.
The defensive line, which has four new starters, was an area where freshmen were expected to have an immediate role.
Starting defensive tackle Ego Ferguson said defensive line coach Brick Haley "told the young guys they had to be ready when their time is called."
"This is one of the deepest freshmen classes I've seen," Ferguson added. "It's not just three or four guys. It's the whole group that can contribute."
Chavis said he hasn't had to play this many freshmen in prominent roles since his 2007 season with Tennessee, when he had two freshmen starting in the secondary: cornerback Brent Vinson and strong safety Eric Berry.
That defense struggled early in the season, Chavis recalled, but got better as the year went on as the Volunteers won the SEC East before losing to LSU's eventual national title squad in the league championship game.
"It's not the ideal scenario, but is what is and we're going to take this group of talented players we've got and work every week to make sure we get the most out of them and get the best players on the field," Chavis said. "It's a great opportunity and that's what players look for.
"We certainly have the talent to have a good football team, but we have to gain experience and mature and keep growing daily."