The move was made with so little fanfare toward the end of last season that the Washington Redskins' quarterbacks initially had no idea: Coach Joe Gibbs had relinquished his role as the primary play caller to Jack Burns, who was then the quarterbacks coach.
But the decision was significant -- Gibbs had always called plays during his 12 years as an NFL coach -- and it coincided with an improved offense as Gibbs also made alterations to his schemes.
This week, Gibbs confirmed that the team would use the same setup: Burns -- an offensive consultant who has been replaced by Bill Musgrave as quarterbacks coach -- will call the initial play after occasional input from offensive coordinator Don Breaux.
Gibbs said that the main reason was to streamline his responsibilities and be better organized on game day. He remains the ultimate authority in play calling and can veto any recommendation.
"I kind of went through a thing there of what's the best way to be organized on game day," Gibbs said. "And I feel like Jack and Don had a good feel. So the way we're set up now, I'm real comfortable with it. They are upstairs [in the booth]. They get big input. They make a lot of the decisions there. And then I'm the last guy to make the call when it goes in. But I certainly depend a lot on them. They've done a great job."
Washington's offensive assistants communicate via headsets, but Gibbs is the only coach with the ability to speak into his quarterback's earpiece. So when the change was made late last season, quarterbacks Patrick Ramsey and Mark Brunell were unaware for a few games.
For most of last season, Breaux had been on the sideline near Gibbs while Burns sat in the booth to provide strategy. When the change occurred with about six games left, Breaux moved upstairs with Burns.
After Gibbs listens to the initial call, he decides whether to make a change. When asked how often the recommendation will make it through, Gibbs responded: "Well, you certainly have to give them a lot of the credit. Let's put it that way."
Yesterday, Burns played down the move: "Two heads are better than one. Joe has got a very keen eye right there on the sideline. And I can be in the press box and see things that maybe he can't see at the time. It's a real good working relationship, and we feel like it's going to be positive for our players. He's fabulous at adjusting during the game. If Joe has a strong feeling about something, that's great."
Most primary play callers in the NFL are offensive coordinators, although some head coaches have dual roles. But the change is new for Gibbs, his longtime assistant acknowledged.
"Joe will do whatever he deems necessary to turn this around," tight ends coach Rennie Simmons said. "Maybe Joe didn't know how he would feel [initially]. But he feels comfortable doing that, so we're staying with it."
Safety Ryan Clark (knee) didn't practice yesterday, and is listed as questionable for Sunday's game. If Clark can't play, either Matt Bowen or Pierson Prioleau is expected to start. Wideout Taylor Jacobs (toe) is questionable. Reserve linebacker Chris Clemons (hamstring) is doubtful; Brandon Noble (knee) is probable. Right tackle Jon Jansen, who is probable, practiced with his broken thumb in a soft cast. . . . Safety Sean Taylor spoke yesterday for the first time since the first day of training camp: "Every time Sunday comes around, I think everybody gets a little excited, a little more energized and [has] just a little bit more to look forward to. We're starting the season, and hopefully it will finish off with something big."