Respecting the Walk-On
Penn State head coach Bill O'Brien has been making the media rounds lately giving some interviews. He was asked how coping with the scholarship limitation penalty affects their approach. He said that they limited contact in practice so that they wouldn't lose players to injury they needed later. For example, he said they had only four linebackers. As a blogger, you're immediately prepared to write about the implications of navigating a Big Ten season (in a division with Wisconsin) with only four linebackers. Then you double-check the PSU roster and guess what? It's got 17 names on it.
I'll grant that there is often a drop-off in quality between a scholarship player and a walk-on. But what does it say about how he thinks about his walk-ons when he publicly treats these players as if they don't exist? You could see the recruiting benefit. "Hey young linebacker prospect, look how little competition there is for playing time". But when that message is shared nationally, it also sounds like, "we don't like/trust our walk-on linebackers".
Contrast that with Bo Pelini and Nebraska. He talks about how they treat walk-ons the same as scholarship players (to the extent the NCAA allows). He started three walk-ons on his offensive line in the Big Ten Championship game last year. You'll nearly always see walk-ons on the depth chart at tight end, linebacker, and defensive back as well. His special teams always feature walk-ons as well.
He also avoids oversigning recruits. The odds can be kind to the practice since there's bound to be players between February and August ready to transfer, that you need to dismiss from the team, or that have to end their careers prematurely due to injury (as Walker Ashburn has just this week). But Pelini's been content to spend those surplus scholarships on deserving walk-ons.
It's not as though O'Brien has swore off playing walk-ons. His top quarterback last year was a walk-on (albeit, an inherited one). He's even taken to calling them "run-ons" since the idea is that they'll likely be necessary at Penn State. Still, it seems unlikely Pelini would ever cry poverty at a position with 17 players available.