FOXBOROUGH -- It has been one heck of a year for Duane Starks, thanks to a list of milestone achievements.
When in the span of a few months you fulfill a promise to your mother by getting your college degree and you get married, your biography can declare a year as special.
And before those accomplishments, Starks was paroled from the lowly Arizona Cardinals and relocated to New England, which had won consecutive Super Bowls.
But the past two months have not been very good for Starks, and yesterday he hit a low point, as he was placed on injured reserve by the Patriots, bringing his 2005 season to an end.
Starks, slowed by a thigh injury since training camp, has a shoulder problem that coach Bill Belichick said could require surgery.
''Medically, we're looking into what the best way is to handle his situation with his shoulder, and he'll probably have some kind of procedure done soon," Belichick said. ''Right now, the main thing is he's just not healthy."
According to Belichick, Starks's on-the-field struggles were related to his injuries, though the coach would not comment on whether Starks was a good fit for the Patriots' defensive scheme. Belichick had only praise for the eight-year veteran he acquired in March in a trade with the Cardinals, saying Starks did everything asked of him.
''Duane is a professional. He's a smart guy. He works hard. Football is important to him," Belichick said. ''If we didn't have confidence in him, he wouldn't have been out there."
Where do the Patriots go from here?
Starks is the Patriots' fifth defensive back to be placed on injured reserve this season, joining safeties Rodney Harrison and Guss Scott, and cornerbacks Tyrone Poole and Chad Scott.
The Patriots began the season with 10 defensive backs on their roster; five are lost for the season, and two others -- Randall Gay and James Sanders -- have missed at least half the season with injuries.
Gay, who has missed four games, moved from cornerback to safety against Indianapolis Monday night but didn't finish the game because of a recurring ankle injury. He has missed practice this week.
Sanders, out for six games with an ankle problem, is back at practice and could make his second start at strong safety Sunday at Miami. Michael Stone, who played more defense Monday than he has in his four-year career combined, appears to be in the safety rotation.
Belichick said the Patriots would almost certainly add a cornerback before the week is over, but there are no all-stars at home waiting to join NFL rosters. Any newcomer -- the Patriots worked out Terrell Buckley, Rod Babers, Mario Edwards, and Aaron Beasley last month -- would take a spot behind Ellis Hobbs and Hank Poteat.
Hobbs and Poteat were Nos. 10 and 11, respectively, on the depth chart among defensive backs in training camp.
Hobbs will probably start at cornerback opposite Asante Samuel, with Poteat, who was cut at the end of training camp and re-signed Oct. 19, being the top reserve.
Patriots coaches aren't sure Hobbs, a third-round draft pick out of Iowa State, is ready to step into the lineup, but they have no choice.
''I really feel like opportunity is going to be in preparation," Hobbs said. ''They're going to see if I'm prepared and things like that. I feel like I've done my best to prepare. I feel like the coaches have done their job preparing me. It's just a matter of execution now."
Poteat said he is in a better situation than when the team signed him just before the playoffs last season.
''We all prepare as if we're starters, because things can happen and you have to be ready to step up," Poteat said. ''I've been in this situation before. You have to continue to work hard as if something is going to happen, so if it does, you're ready for it."
That is the situation for receiver Troy Brown as well. Though Brown has yet to practice at defensive back, where he played extensively last season because of injuries, Belichick said his veteran wideout could be called upon at any time.
''He's responsible, like a lot of players are, to be ready at multiple positions and different roles depending on circumstances," Belichick said. ''I would never tell a player, 'Well, we would never ask you to do this,' if he has any kind of preparation for it. I think he should prepare for it, because again, you never know what's going to happen.
''I can't tell you what's going to happen in the game, what we're going to need a player to do or not need a player to do. I think that's their job, is to be prepared for those situations if they come up and if we need them then we use them."
Jerome Solomon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org