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Dillard's number is up

Giants rookie linebacker Phillip Dillard at rookie minicamp.

Giants rookie linebacker Phillip Dillard at rookie minicamp. (May 1, 2010) Photo Credit: Newsday / Patrick E. McCarthy

I wrote this story about rookie linebacker Phillip Dillard in Sunday's paper.

The picture that accompanied the story is the same one shown above. When I first opened the paper I thought we had the wrong guy. 55? That's not him!

Then I remembered that in his brief career as a Giant, Dillard  already has been issued three jersey numbers -- and he'll likely need a fourth.

He started with 55 when he was drafted, and he wore that to rookie minicamp which is when the picture above was taken. Then, when the linebackers decided to shuffle their numbers around, Bryan Kehl took 55 and Dillard was given 53. He wore that jersey in the veteran's minicamp.

But a week before training camp started, the Giants signed Keith Bulluck. Bulluck had worn 53 for a decade in Tennessee, and Dillard gave that jersey up to the veteran.

“I don’t know how much of a choice he had in it,” Bulluck said.

Now in training camp and in Monday night's  preseason game he'll be wearing 49. That's not a linebacker's number. According to NFL rules, linebackers must wear numbers between 50 and 59 and, if those are all taken, between 90 and 99.

Dillard wore 52 in college, but that number now belongs to Clint Sintim. Numbers 50 (Ken Strong) and 56 (Lawrence Taylor) are retired by the team.

So what number will Dillard be wearing when the Giants play their regular-season opener on Sept. 12? One of the other linebackers  likely will be cut by then, so there'll be more room. Will Gerris Wilkinson be a goner and will 58 be available? Could Zak DeOssie -- no longer a linebacker but a pure long snapper -- change his number from 51 to something else? Like 49? Number 92 is currently available, but it seems only a matter of time before that number is retired as well (although if they keep giving out 53 I don't see how they can keep 92 on the shelf).

"I’ll just get whatever number they give me and play," Dillard said.

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