Burns, a preseason All-Southeastern Conference pick, is considered UK's best defensive player. He has 32.5 tackles for loss and 137 total tackles in two seasons.
"Nobody is irreplaceable, but he is about as close as you can get," Kentucky linebacker Chad Anderson said. "I lined up behind him all last year. Sometimes he could just flinch and the offense would go offsides. He would look at them and tell them they couldn't block him and then go right by them.
"For a guy to not be that big and still be able to intimidate so many people, you can't make up for that. What we can do is run more people in and out and have fresher people so we can keep playing the same brand of football. But without Sweet Pea, it won't be the same."
Defensive coordinator Mike Archer knows. He's already lost starting cornerback Bo Smith because of an offseason fight that led to a season-ending head injury and linebacker Deion Holts, who was dismissed from the team last winter. Linebacker Dustin Williams also will miss the first game because of a hamstring injury.
"Questionable at best"
Archer calls Burns "questionable at best" and says even if he does play, he won't be close to his best after missing at least two weeks of preseason practice.
"In the NFL, you would have a guy miss all of training camp and then go out and play 60 plays in the first game," Archer said. "But that's a professional. College kids need reps so they can see what is going to happen."
Burns hopes film study, rehabilitation work and experience will help him be effective as soon as he is cleared to play.
"One day you are playing the game you love, then it can be taken from you. Knowing I can't play has been driving me nuts since the decision to have surgery was made," Burns said. "Any time you have surgery, you are going to worry. You should be worried. But once I get back out there on the field, I can't be worried about my knee. I have to go full speed just like always, and that's what I will do."
Burns says his teammates should believe they can win with or without him.
"They work just as hard as I do. They deserve to go out there and win the game with or without me," Burns said. "One man doesn't stop the show. They are on scholarship, too. They have to go out and perform."
But can't one man make a show a lot better?
"That's correct. I feel like I can go out and help a lot. But they help me, too. That's why if I can't play, and I don't know if I can or not, then they just have to forget about me and still find a way to win," Burns said.
On The Net:
University of Kentucky Football