review of '96 season

There were many question marks surrounding the Saints heading into 1996, but many (including me) believed that the team could pull together and make a run at the playoffs (thanks to an easy schedule). The season was doomed early by the squad's second consecutive 0-5 start. A pair of close wins ended the losing streak, but a loss to the Panthers in week 8 convinced Jim Mora that it was time to resign.

The assistant coach shake-up of the previous two seasons had left the team without a bona fide replacement for Mora, and thus only one win was earned in the second half of the season despite matchups with mediocre opponents.

Here's the sad story-

                  - 11-27  @49ers        never in the game
                 /  20-22   Panthers     played fairly well- tough loss
                /   15-30  @Bengals      four second-half turnovers
               /    14-28   Cardinals    two long Johnson runs broke it open
              /     10-17  @Ravens       failed on late 4th & inches QB sneak
             /      17-13   Jaguars      our luckiest game of the year
            /       27-24   Bears        Zellars went nuts, Brien hit winner
           /        07-19  @Panthers     inept offense in second half
          /       -         BYE          Jim Mora resigns, Carl Smith fired
         /       /  17-24   49ers        a good showing
        /       /   14-31   Oilers       never in the game
       /       /    15-17  @Falcons      almost came back from awful start
      /       /     07-13  @Buccaneers   tired D couldn't make one last stop
     /       /      10-26   Rams         Nuss couldn't lead the team to a score
    /       /       15-31   Falcons      ugly
   /       /        17-03  @Giants       dominating D
  /       /       - 13-14  @Rams         second-half field position decided it
 /       /       /  
/       /       /    
Here's a player-by-player recap (X = started a game, x = played in a game)-


XXXXXXXX|XXXXX XX       Jim Everett       267-464-2797  12 TD, 16 INT
        |    xX        Doug Nussmeier      28- 50- 272   1 TD,  1 INT
        |               Tom Hodson
Everett was the Saints' QB for all but six quarters in 1996. He had a mediocre year, due in part to a lack of quality recipients of his passes and handoffs. Nussmeier was unspectacular in his first NFL action. Hodson did not play at all.

ball carriers

                                         run       catch     fumbles/lost
XXXxXXXX|  xxxXXX     Mario Bates     164-584-4    13- 44         4/2
  xX  xx|XXXXX          Ray Zellars   120-475-4     9- 45         4/4
xxXXxxxX|XXXXXXXX   Lorenzo Neal       21- 58-1    31-194-1       1/1
xx x xxx|x    xxx     Ricky Whittle    20- 52      26-162         1/1
xxxxxxxx|xx x         Derek Brown      13- 30       8- 54         0/0
        | xx xxxx   Earnest Hunter     14- 44      17-138         2/1
        |           Michael Davis
Bates was the starting RB until midseason, at which time Zellars took over the position. Bates regained the post late in the year when Zellars injured a disc in his neck. Neither had a particularly impressive season. Neal saw extensive action as a blocking back and had more receptions than carries. Brown was the 3rd down back for the first half of the season, but mid-year acquisition Hunter was Venturi's choice for that role. Rookie Whittle was afflicted with injuries. Davis spent the year on IR.


                                              catch        run
XxXXXXXX|XxXXXxxx   Michael Haynes          44-786-4
XXXXXXXX|XXXXXxxx  Torrance Small           50-558-2      4-51-1
xxxxxxxx|xXxx XXx       Lee DeRamus         15-182-1      1- 2
xXxxxxxx|x          Haywood Jeffires        20-215-3
   xx  x| xxxx      Mercury Hayes            4-101        2- 7
        |    xXX      Terry Guess            2- 69-1      2-(4)
XXXXXXX |               Irv Smith           15-144
       x|xXXXXXXX      Tony Johnson          7- 76-1
XxxxxXxX|X  xxxxX      Paul Green            7- 91
xXxxXxXx|xxxxxxxx  Hendrick Lusk            27-210
        |             Brett Bech
        |             Steve Rhem
Haynes made some deep catches but was bothered by nagging injuries throughout the year. Small and DeRamus failed to step into the void left by Quinn Early and dropped too many balls. Jeffires was a favorite target before injuries ended his season prematurely. Rookies Hayes and Guess saw limited action. Irv Smith's season was a disappointing one cut short by a knee injury. Green had very few passes thrown his way, but rookie Lusk caught a number of balls. Mid-year pickup Johnson started during the second half of the season. Bech was activated from the practice squad for the final game but didn't play. Rhem spent the year on IR.

offensive linemen

XXXXXXXX|X   XXXX   William Roaf      
XXXXXXXX|X X            Jim Dombrowski
XXXXXXXX|XXXXXXXX      Andy McCollum     
XXXXXXXX|XXXXXXXX        Ed King           
XXXXXXXX|XXXXXXXX  Clarence Jones    
xxxxxxxx|xXxXXXXX     Craig Novitsky
        |xXXXxxxX      Mike Verstegen
        | xx            Tom Ackerman
        |   x          Keno Hills
        |    xxxx    Donald Willis
Roaf was re-elected to the Pro Bowl despite missing three games with a knee injury. Dombrowski had a good year but suffered a fractured ankle that placed him on IR. Line newcomers McCollum, King, and Jones started every game but didn't open enough holes for rushers. Novitsky was the #1 backup OL, while Verstegen saw his first NFL action in the second half of the year. Willis and rookies Hills and Ackerman filled in on a limited basis.

defensive linemen

                                       tkl/ast  sacks    fumble frc/rec
XXXXX   | XXXXXXX    Darren Mickell     26/ 7    3.0           1/0
XXXXXXXX|XXXXXXXX     Wayne Martin      73/15   11.0           3/1
   XXXXX|XXXXXXXX       Joe Johnson     50/ 9    7.5           3/0
XXXX X  |x XxxXxx   Renaldo Turnbull    10/ 2    6.5           0/1
xxxxXxXX|Xxxxxxxx     Brady Smith       15/ 2    2.0
xxx xXXX|XXxxxxXX    Austin Robbins     22/ 7    1.0
XXXxxx x|xxxXXx      Willie Broughton   16/ 6    2.0
x xxxxxx|xx            Fred Stokes       6/ 1    1.0           1/0
        |      x      Emile Palmer
Mickell started slow and then served a drug-related suspension, but he finished strong. Martin had another excellent season. Johnson looked good after missing the first three games due to injury. Turnbull's performance was poor. Broughton and Robbins split time along the line. Rookie Smith played fairly well, but Stokes contributed little before going on IR. Palmer was promoted from the practice squad late in the season.


                                     tkl/ast  sacks   INT   fumble frc/rec
XXXXXXXX|XXXXXxXX      Mark Fields    85/22     2                 1/1
XxXXXXXX|XXxXXxXX   Winfred Tubbs     84/28     1      1          1/1
XXX   XX|XXxxxxXX     Rufus Porter    34/ 9
xxxXXXx | xXXXXxx   Richard Harvey    37/ 7     2                 2/0
Fields showed improvement in his second year, but the performances of Tubbs and Porter were disappointing. Harvey was a versatile backup and started a number of games.


                                      tkl/ast  INT  pass dfns   fumble frc/rec
XXXXXXXX|XXXXXXXX      Mark McMillian  62/ 5    2      10
XXXXXXXX|XXXXXXXX   Anthony Newman     60/21    3       9             1/2
XxXXXXXX|XXXXXXXX      Greg Jackson    72/20    3       7             1/0
XXXXXXXX|XXXXXXXX      Eric Allen      48/ 3    1      16
  xxxxxx|xxXxxXxx      Alex Molden     17/ 4    2       3
xxx x xx|xxxxx xx    Je'Rod Cherry      6/ 2            1             0/1
xx   x  |x xxxxxx   William Strong      1/ 0
xXxxxxx |              Sean Lumpkin     1/ 0
        |     x     Derrick Hoskins
        |            Israel Byrd
McMillian, Newman, Jackson, and Allen played all the way and were somewhat better in the second half of the year after a bad start. The impact of rookies Molden and Cherry was not as large as had been hoped. Lumpkin missed the second half of the season due to injury. Strong played occasionally. Hoskins was a late roster addition. Byrd spent the year on IR.

special teams

xxxxxxxx|xxxxxxxx      Doug Brien       21/25 FG, 18/18 PAT
xxxxxxxx|xxxxxxxx     Klaus Wilmsmeyer  87 punts, avg yds- 40.8 gross, 32.5 net
xxxxxxxx|xxxxxxxx   Kendall Gammon
xxxxxxxx|xxxxxXxx    Tyrone Hughes      kicks- 70-1791, punts- 30-152 & 20 FC
xxxxxxxx|xxxxxxxx    Ernest Dixon       9 tkl & blocked punt on special teams
xXxxxxxx|xxxxxxxx     Brian Jones       17 tkl & 2 frc fumbles on special teams
xxxx x  |              J.J. McCleskey   4 tkl on special teams
     xxx|xxxxxxxx       Don Davis       10 tkl & 1 fumble rec on special teams
Brien had an excellent year, as did long-snapper Gammon. Wilmsmeyer was so-so. Hughes ripped off a number of long kickoff returns, but his punt return ability seems gone (and his performance in the secondary was poor). J.J. McCleskey was let go in the middle of the year while injured. LBs Dixon, Davis, and Jones played most of their minutes here.

yardage histogram

Each capital letter in the chart below indicates a from-scrimmage run or catch by a Saints RB, WR, or TE during the 1996 season. The horizontal axis indicates the number of plays and the vertical axis shows the yardage gained or lost. These stats come from my notes and aren't official.

                catches    |    runs
  2    2    1    1         |         1    1    2    2    3    3    4    4    5
  5    0    5    0    5    0    5    0    5    0    5    0    5    0    5    0
-5                         |ZB
       SSSSSSHHNNLWJEIRRBZP|ENZZZBBBBBBB           key-    mario Bates
           SHHHHNLWWJJJERRZ|ZZZZZZBBBB                           Derek brown
         SSSSHHHHLLLWJEEEEE|SEEZBB                               Earnest hunter
10               SSHHLLJJEM|DZZZZBB                        terry Guess
               SHHHHHNLLIRT|WNZBBB                       michael Haynes
           SSSHHLLWWJJEZDTG|BBBB                                 Irv smith
                  SSSHHNLJP|ZZZZB                        haywood Jeffires
                  SSSWWJIDT|B                           hendrick Lusk
15                SNWJIRRBT|W                                    Mercury hayes
                 SHHHHNJIRP|                             lorenzo Neal
                   HHHEITPM|SBB                                  Paul green
                        SSD|B                              lee deRamus
                         HN|                            torrance Small
20                       HR|Z                                    Tony johnson
                         SN|Z                              ricky Whittle
                        SSE|SB                               ray Zellars
25                         |
30                        H|
35                         |
40                         |
45                         |
50                        M|
55                         |
60                         |
65                         |