Burns has lesson plan on board Vikings assistant faces ex-mentors

December 31, 1992|By Jim Souhan | Jim Souhan,Contributing Writer

Jack Burns knows he owes the Washington Redskins, but he hopes to make them pay.

The Minnesota Vikings' first-year offensive coordinator, who spent three years as Washington's receivers coach, can't match resumes with his former colleagues this week. Redskins coach Joe Gibbs and assistant head coach/defense Richie Petitbon, both of whom have held their current positions since 1981, are acknowledged wizards.

But Burns, who often was seen but not heard in those famous Redskins offensive meetings, says he has a chance to demonstrate what he learned on Saturday, when the Vikings play the Redskins in an NFC playoff game at the Metrodome.

"I have a strong personal feeling of very high regard for them and what they do there," Burns said. "They raised me, and they're a part of me and always will be. I have a heartfelt feeling for them. But this is competition in its highest form, and they know me well enough to know what I want out of this game."

Burns and Gibbs never grew particularly close, but Burns says he learned a lot during his apprenticeship. The Vikings' passing game is much like the Redskins', and their use of tight ends and H-backs, and parts of their running game -- including the famed counter trey -- are similar.

"I know it looks like the Redskins' offense, but it's really a combination, a culmination, of all the offenses I've been around," Burns said. "The system you use is not as important as the way you use it."

Using that amalgam, the Vikings' offense was reminiscent of the Redskins of '91 early in the season. Through six games, the Vikings averaged 27 points and threw for more than 200 yards five times. But, in the past 10 weeks, the Vikings' passing game has sputtered. During that span, cornerback Audray McMillian scored more touchdowns after intercepting passes (two) than all of the Vikings' receivers combined (one).

Leading receiver Cris Carter has missed four weeks with a broken collarbone, although he was activated yesterday. Rich Gannon, the original starting quarterback, has been replaced by Sean Salisbury. Another starting receiver, Hassan Jones, has missed seven games with back injuries, and the third starter, Anthony Carter, had a career-low two touchdown catches.

"When you have your best receivers injured and your quarterback position in flux, it's easy to say something's wrong," Burns said. "But I know things that other people don't about what's going on with this offense."

Burns will enter his rematch with Petitbon, one of his favorite former Redskins colleagues, with a passing game that often has limped and a running game that the Redskins easily stuffed in their 15-13 victory at the Metrodome on Oct. 25.

Asked if the average fan would give Petitbon the edge in their duel, because of his vast experience and impeccable reputation, Burns said: "Well, they might, but they're foolish to do so. I don't think it makes any difference. They may give him the edge because of his players. Ask Richie. All I know is, if I wasn't supposed to be a coordinator here, then I wouldn't be."

In that first game, the Vikings were shut out in the first half, but scored 10 points in the fourth quarter to take a 13-12 lead before the Redskins rallied in the final two minutes. Did the two play mind games as the game wore on?

"None at all," Burns said. "I think the fact that we know each other so well was the reason. He didn't try to romance me with the music, and I didn't try to romance him."

Burns won't say that he wanted to play the Redskins again after that loss, but it's clear that he did.

"We're very confident that we can play with them or anybody else in this league," Burns said.

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