Building a championship football team takes a mix of veterans and youth, superstars and role players. It's a delicate recipe that requires just the right balance.
This blending of ingredients takes place during free agency and ends with the draft. In the last four years, no team has done a better job of mixing and matching talent than the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The superstars are well known.
Ben Roethlisberger, Hines Ward, James Harrison, and Troy Polamalu have gotten all the glory during Pittsburgh's run to Super Bowl titles in two of the last four seasons. Nothing wrong with that. They are stars in the league and deserve all the accolades they've received.
But without the role players, the unsung performers who give it their all, championship rings and the Lombardi Trophy wouldn't belong to the Steel City right now.
Guys like Brett Keisel, Santonio Holmes, LaMarr Woodley, Heath Miller, and Casey Hampton have emerged in recent seasons and are important cogs in the Steeler machine.
As a new season fast approaches, who will be Pittsburgh's breakout players and newcomers to look out for in 2009?
Here are seven to keep an eye on.
At 6'4" and 220 pounds, Sweed brings size to the receiver position the Steelers haven't had since Plaxico Burress took his handguns to New York.
Sweed saw limited action during his rookie season (six receptions for 64 yards), but is expected to play a much bigger role in 2009. Nate Washington left to become a starter in Tennessee and Sweed will slide into the slot and be the third receiver behind starters Ward and Holmes.
Sweed was a major star at the University of Texas and head coach Mike Tomlin needs the youngster to emerge this season if the Steelers hope to repeat.
If he doesn't, Pittsburgh will need either free agent acquisition Shaun McDonald, Dallas Baker or rookie Mike Wallace to step up and be the go-to guy in the slot.
Tomlin is counting on Sweed to produce like Washington did. If he gets close to that, everyone in Pittsburgh will be happy.
Gay, beginning his third season with the Steelers, is being looked at as the man to replace departed corner Bryant McFadden, who signed in the offseason with the Arizona Cardinals.
The Louisville product started four games last season and finished the year with 41 tackles, seven pass deflections, and one interception.
Gay has nice size (5'10", 190-pounds) with decent speed. He has the inside track to be the starter, but veterans Deshea Townsend, Fernando Bryant, and free agent pick-up Keiwan Ratliff are ready and waiting in case he falters.
Look for Gay to be the starter and challenged often early in the season. How he holds up will have a lot to say about the strength of the Pittsburgh secondary this season.
Davis played in only five games for the Steelers in 2009 and those were mainly as a special team performer.
It's not easy to translate into a new position in the NFL, but that's what Davis had to do in his rookie season. A defensive end in college, Davis made the move to outside linebacker in the NFL and struggled learning the Dick LeBeau system.
With a full season under his belt, look for Davis to emerge as a situational pass rusher for the Steelers. A role he should develop into just fine.
At UCLA, Davis was a two-time All-American who is second in Bruins history in sacks (29) and third in tackles for loss (42.5). Davis, the son of former Oakland Raiders T Bruce Davis, Sr., has excellent quickness wrapped in a perfect outside backer frame (6'3", 252-pounds).
With offensive coordinators fretting over how to stop Harrison and Woodley, Davis could become a key contributor to the Steelers defense in 2009.
Hood, the Steelers first-round draft choice, will have to make the transition from a three technique defensive tackle into a five technique end.
He may struggle early on, but look for the former academic All-American to get better as the season goes along and he becomes more accustomed to playing defensive end.
At 6'3", 300-pounds, Hood has size to play the 3-4 right end and the quickness to be disruptive as a pass rusher. With Keisel in the final year of his contract, Hood will be counted on to become a solid backup this year and the probable starter in 2010.
The two-time All-Big 12 selection was a force for Missouri. He started 35 games and finished his career with 170 tackles, 15.5 sacks, and 22.5 tackles for loss.
This is a Mike Tomlin kind of player-intelligent, aggressive, and athletic. He's another solid player in the Pittsburgh defense.
Frank "The Tank" Summers didn't get his nickname because of his abilities with a beer bong. He got it because of his pulverizing style of running.
The Steelers have a quality trio of running backs: Willie Parker, Mewelde Moore and Rashard Mendenhall, but ever since Jerome Bettis called it a day, Pittsburgh hasn't had a tough goal line and short yardage bruiser.
That's about to change with the addition of Summers, a fifth-round pick from UNLV.
The Tank is a solid mass at 5'10", 245-pounds. He's not just a typical run-between-the-tackles back. He has great hands and can be utilized fairly quickly into offensive coordinator Bruce Arians bunch formation and short yardage packages.
Summers was a two-year starter for the Rebels and paced the team in rushing and receiving touchdowns in 2007. He should become a fan favorite rather quickly.
Urbik, a third-round draft choice from Wisconsin, should challenge Darnell Stapleton for the starting right guard spot.
The 6'5", 323-pounder started 50 games for the Badgers and finished his stellar career with 325 knockdowns and a grade out of 87%. The two-time All-Big Ten selection gave up only three sacks in his final two seasons.
Guard play was erratic for Pittsburgh last season and Urbik should shore up some of those problems, even if he doesn't start. No matter. The Urbik-Stapleton battle should be one of the highlights of training camp.
Don't think a punter is important to a team?
Just ask Mike Tomlin how relieved he is that Sepulveda will be back punting for the Steelers after missing all of last season with a knee injury.
Veteran Mitch Berger was woefully inconsistent last season and punting was one of the few weaknesses the Steelers had in 2008.
Sepulveda made the all-rookie squad in 2007 by averaging 42.4 yards per punt with a 37.9 net. He also placed 28 kicks inside the 20.
The only two-time Ray Guy Award winner has a booming leg and is a solid athlete (he played linebacker in high school). The Steelers signed Dirk Johnson in free agency to give Sepulveda some competition, but look for the Baylor star to get a welcome return to Pittsburgh.
The Steelers have the coaching and talent to repeat as Super Bowl champions. Look for these seven to emerge from the shadows and play a key role in the 2009 season.