Florida has made a strong case to be considered "DBU" over the last decade, but bad news hit the defensive backfield Thursday morning. The school announced that starting safety Marcell Harris will miss the season after suffering a torn right Achilles tendon. He suffered the injury Wednesday participating in team run activities.

"As a coach this is one of the hardest things you are faced with," coach Jim McElwain said in a statement released by Florida. "Here is a kid who has made great personal growth during his time here and has really matured both on and off the field. It is tough to see a player invest so much in himself and his teammates and have this happen, but I do know that we will support him every step of the way as he works through this injury."

It's a huge hit to a Florida team that's known for defense but will be facing a massive rebuild in 2017 with less than a handful of starters returning from its 2016 unit. Here are four things to know about the injury, and where Florida goes from here.

1. It's a massive loss in run and pass situations: Harris had a team-high 73 tackles, four for loss, one sack, two interceptions and one fumble return for a touchdown last season -- his first as a full-time starter -- for the SEC East champion Gators. The 6-foot-1, 211-pound Orlando native was ultra-reliable sticking his nose in to stop the run a year ago, plays with the intensity that McElwain wants from his defenders and was a reliable leader for the team.

His absence means that Florida will enter the 2017 season -- which opens Sept. 2 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, against Michigan -- with just three returning starters.

2. He learned how to be a leader last season: The Gators' defense was bitten hard by the injury bug last year, including in the defensive backfield where Harris saw his role and responsibility increase due to injuries to now-departed star Marcus Maye and fellow starter Nick Washington. "On every SEC team, the face of the team isn't going to be the same every year," he said at SEC Media Days earlier this month. "We have new guys in that have already contributed to our team in ways we didn't expect, especially last year throughout last season. It's about getting the new guys ready to play."

Though Harris has played in 37 games over his three active seasons after taking a redshirt as a true freshman, he did not truly blossom into a player worthy of starting for Florida until last season. He was expected to take another major leap in 2017.

3. It changes the whole dynamic of the secondary: Sophomore Jeawon Taylor and freshman Quincy Lenton, who were injured this spring, could be options to step in for Harris, but new defensive coordinator Randy Shannon could get creative with his roster.

Starter Duke Dawson is slated to be the next big thing at cornerback, but he has played safety and nickel during the first three years of his Gators career. Like Harris, he's a veteran leader who understands the position and has proven versatility that could prove valuable considering the circumstances.

In that same light, sophomore Chauncey Gardner was solid last year. He played in all 13 games, starting three at safety with 36 tackles and three interceptions -- one of which was returned for a touchdown. He's slated to start along side Dawson at corner but is certainly an option to move around if Shannon chooses. 

4. Harris' career will likely continue: Seeing as he has not yet taken a medical redshirt and was injured before the start of the season, Harris could apply for -- and would likely receive -- a sixth year of eligibility following the season if he chooses. Considering the extent of the injury and time it takes to rehab, proving he's healthy at the college level in 2018 would be the wise decision before he embarks on an NFL career.