Undrafted Superstars: Pittsburgh's Commitment to Developing Players

Mimi McCannCorrespondent IMarch 31, 2009

TAMPA, FL - FEBRUARY 01:  James Harrison #92 of the Pittsburgh Steelers makes an interception in the Cardinals endzone in the second quarter against the Arizona Cardinals during Super Bowl XLIII on February 1, 2009 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images)

Big games pivot on big plays. The Pittsburgh Steelers' recent Super Bowl appearances were no exception. 

Of the group of guys making critical plays for Pittsburgh, four were undrafted free-agents.  

Powerful and determined athletes such as James Harrison and Fast Willie Parker went from names on a depth chart, to headliners. Add bankable kicker Jeff Reed to the mix, and a logic emerges as to why the Steelers don't overpay for free agents.  

Pittsburgh develops players.

Both Harrison and Parker showed flashes of greatness in college, but were missing some skills necessary to be one hundred percent effective in their respective roles. Excellent coaching enabled these guys to be ready to step in.  

Both Harrison and Parker were ready to land their opportunities when they each turned out great performances in, the otherwise "meaningless", last game of the season at Buffalo in '04.

Jeff Reed got his break for the Steelers after stepping in to replace injured kicker Todd Peterson. Reed seized the opportunity, and his solid accuracy drove the Steelers to keep him, and release Peterson.  

RB Gary Russell's transition was also one that featured an undervalued player's determination to make his mark.

The first touchdown in Super Bowl XLIII was scored by Russell. The touchdown wasn't glamorous, but it was significant. Russell managed to do what the team had failed to do so many times throughout the season, punch in a four yard run on a "3rd-and-goal".  

Sticking with Russell gave the Steelers the opportunity address areas that were in need of reinforcement.  

That choice paid off.

The Steelers cemented a reputation for spotting and acquiring their own talent after drafting Hall of Famers Lynn Swann, Jack Lambert, John Stallworth and Mike Webster in 1974. 

Today's team continues the tradition of building through brilliant draft choices. The commitment to building a team from the ground up makes it possible for the team to avoid overspending when looking to fill in the blanks left by exiting personnel.

Every year there are some Pittsburgh players that are able to get bigger deals with other NFL Franchises. These players are missed, but their production rarely rises much higher once they are gone.  

Frequently, the departure of an established veteran makes room for a heavyweight waiting to happen.

Every year we also see teams that cannot make use of the most proficient players.  Outstanding coaches and scouts can see both where potential lies, and when it has been reached.  

Key veterans must be retained in order to mentor those lacking experience, and to lead the team. A balance is completed when a few guys like Roethlisberger, Polamalu and, hopefully, Harrison receive the contracts that they definitely earned.

The Steelers are a well managed organization. Their belief in identifying and developing individuals has kept a steady stream of talent moving through their franchise, even after the advent of free agency.  

Last year's Super Bowl is yet another reminder of how the team stayed true to their roots, and provided opportunities for previously lesser known men to become champions.