Ditka may not be missed too much now

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 11, 2000

I must admit I’m going to miss Mike Ditka. But new Saints coach Jim Haslett is making it easier. There’s just something about Ditka’s demeanor (when he stayed within the boundaries of good sportsmanship) that always enamored me.

The gum-chewing, not to mention the other kind of chewing, is something that is etched in my mind, as well as the emotional press conferences after the game.

But Ditka has gone and Haslett is already way ahead of the game.

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When Ditka was hired, he talked about the Super Bowl as if the Saints were a couple of players away and finished his banquet tour before getting back to business.

Haslett went to work soon after his hiring and has been going hard at it ever since.

He knows there’s a lot of work to do.

Haslett is a no-nonsense guy who was known for his rugged play as a Buffalo Bill. Haslett is best remembered for stepping on Terry Bradshaw’s helmet after a play, which led to a bloody nose for the former Pittsburgh Steeler quarterback.

Haslett put together one of the top defenses in the league while at Pittsburgh and will certainly get to work on building up the Saints’ defensive side.

One move Haslett made Thursday also puts him one up on Ditka. He made a move to quarterback Jake Delhomme while apparently opening the door for three-year backup Danny Wuerffel by not offering him a contract renewel.

Delhomme, who made a stunning NFL debut by leading the hapless Saints to an upset of the Dallas Cowboys on Christmas Eve, was among 14 players offered new contracts by the Saints.

I’ve always liked Weurffel, but he doesn’t have the arm strength or mobility it now takes to be an NFL quarterback.

One move I didn’t like was the fact Haslett did not offer wide receiver Brett Bech a contract renewal, but hopefully something will happen to change that.

Bech is the kind of possession receiver who has no fear across the middle and made some key catches this past year for the Saints.

Other free agents offered contracts by the Saints were linebacker Phil Clarke, wide receiver P.J. Franklin, defensive tackle Uhuru Hamiter, cornerback Corey Harris, guard Robert Hunt, defensive tackle Robert Newkirk, fullback Marvin Powell, linebacker Donnie Spragan and tackle Daryl Terrell.

Franklin is a player and will prove that in the next two years.

Other players who were not offered new contracts included tackle Bryan LaBelle, linebacker Marc Lillibridge, tight end Josh Wilcox, cornerback Robert Williams, linebacker Ink Aleaga, running back Troy Davis and safety Chris Hewitt.

No losses there.

Now comes the part that may be the most fun — signing a top notch free agent.

There are some good ones out there, even if they may not have a lot of years left in their careers.

That group includes Steve Young, Jerry Rice, Dan Marino, Bruce Smith, Thurman Thomas, Andre Reed and Deion Sanders.

It may be a risk taking taking someone past their prime, but then again the leadership and spark a Rice, Young, Marino, Sanders or Smith could bring to a team next year could be worth the risk.

Hey, it couldn’t be any worse than trading all of your draft choices for one player.

Joey Martin is sports editor of The Democrat. He can be reached by calling 446-5172 ext. 232 or at joey.martin@natchezdemocrat.com.