'Illness' ends Tarpinian's season

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Rookie linebacker Jeff Tarpinian was placed on season-ending injured reserve with an illness, head coach Bill Belichick said today. The team's official news release specified a head injury for Tarpinian.

"Jeff did a good job for us, and we really felt like he was coming along," Belichick said. "Unfortunately last week, he had this thing come up. So we'll just have to see how that works out. In the meantime, he's not going to be able to participate for a while. ... It's a tough break for Jeff."

Tarpinian, who made the 53-man roster as a rookie free agent, started against the Jets on Nov. 13, and was one of the Patriots' top special teams tacklers this season.

"He was a young player doing well," Belichick said. "He was playing on defense a little bit, I think he was starting to develop a role there. And he was certainly improving in the kicking game, he was giving us solid play in all four phases -- the Big Four, kickoff, kickoff return, punt, punt return. I'm disappointed for him, and disappointed for us, but we have to move on."

Belichick didn't elaborate when asked about the illness. He said the team feels fortunate to have signed linebacker Niko Koutouvides to fill Tarpinian's role.

"He has really helped us," Belichick said of Koutouvides. "He's a solid veteran guy who was here in the preseason, so recall of assignments and all that have come back pretty quickly. He's a smart guy."