Penn State Football: How Bill O'Brien Can Solve Depth Issues Caused By Sanctions

John McGonigal@@jmcgonigal9Correspondent IIMarch 19, 2013

Sep 1, 2012; University Park, PA, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions head coach Bill O'Brien leads the team onto the field prior to the game against Ohio Bobcats the at Beaver Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-US Presswire
Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

While Joe Paterno's vacated wins and a four-year bowl ban is what made headlines back in July, the heftiest sanction the Penn State football program will have to endure is the loss of scholarships.

This isn't breaking news, but sometimes it gets overlooked.

Through 2016-17, the Nittany Lions will be limited to 15 scholarships per class. That appears on paper to be devastating.

So how will Bill O'Brien deal with that moving forward?

Before touching base on that, let's recognize that the Lions don't appear to be hurting in terms of depth for the upcoming 2013 season.

On offense, the team will head into the spring with four quarterbacks, six tight ends and 13 wideouts. Plus, the team has a normal amount of running backs (four).

The Lions also currently boast 12 linebackers, 15 defensive linemen and more than a dozen defensive backs.

Whether or not all those players pan out as eventual contributors, the question of depth heading into 2013 is not one at all.

However, for the years to come it likely will be for O'Brien and the football program.

When looking at's top-25 recruiting classes of 2013, the average haul was 24 scholarship players.

While quality of players certainly has its place, it can't be denied that Penn State will likely be at a disadvantage recruiting-wise over the next few years with the 15-scholarship restrictions.

Even O'Brien said he wished they were able to sign more players in an interview with

We feel really good about our depth. Is it exactly the way we would want it? No. We were only able to sign a certain amount of guys, but at the same time, we've got a lot of quality, tough [players]. I really enjoy this football team, being around these kids.

With all that considered, O'Brien has done the smart thing in approaching this issue: making use of the walk-on program.

Walk-ons, or "run-ons" as O'Brien calls them, are going to be vital to Penn State's success during these sanctions.

This isn't something new, but it's worth recognizing the job O'Brien has done.

At the end of the 2013 recruiting period, O'Brien convinced 19 talented and overlooked players to take a preferred walk-on spot in Happy Valley.

Most don't have star ratings on recruiting sites, and only some secured other FBS offers or interest.

And yet, it's getting numbers in practice and having bodies out there to work with that helps right off the bat.

Not only that, but walk-ons also have unknown potential and could eventually grab serious playing time down the road.

Even though the majority of the 19 are from Pennsylvania, the Lions coaching staff was able to reach out and snag players from the New England area, Indiana and Illinois.

That being said, O'Brien and his staff need to keep building relationships outside their comfort zones but continue scouring pipeline states for undiscovered talent.

Penn State may not lure the most scholarship-worthy athletes to State College, but bet on the "run-on" program to help carry this program through the sanctions and vastly contribute to depth.