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Marcus Thomas is like Roger Maris: 61*

Denver Broncos nose tackle Marcus Thomas (79) reacts

Denver Broncos nose tackle Marcus Thomas (79) reacts in the first quarter against the New York Jets during an NFL football game. (Nov. 17, 2011) Credit: AP

New Giants defensive tackle Marcus Thomas should have a new nickname: Roger Maris.

Why? Because he was issued a jersey number that he will likely change if and when he makes the team. So for now he’s number 61. With an asterisk.

“That’s all they had left so I’m stuck with an ugly number right now,” said Thomas, who wore 79 during his five seasons in Denver.

Thomas was signed by the Giants last week when it looked like they would be without Shaun Rogers for the rest of the season and Marvin Austin might be missing a lot of time with his back issue. Now, a week later, neither of those seems to be the case. Still, Thomas was a good pickup for the Giants who were able to get a productive and relatively young player as a free agent this deep into the preseason.

Thomas never thought he’d be available. He was a free agent this offseason and expected to either re-sign with the Broncos or at least get offers from other teams. He had a career-high 43 tackles in 12 games with the Broncos in 2011. But the phone just didn’t ring.

“I definitely didn’t understand,” Thomas said. “I thought that number-wise I was there and I did pretty decent for the number of games I played in. Still there were no calls and no one was really biting. It kind of let me down a little bit. But I know it’s the nature of the business. You’re here one day and gone the next.”

Thomas even faced the possibility that his career was over.

“It definitely crossed my mind,” he said. “But they gave me a call and I’m here now.”

Thomas said he’s still trying to find his way around the Giants defense. He’s only been on the field for two practices, and today was the first one in full pads. But, he said, most of playing defensive tackle is based on technique and reaction. It’s not like a receiver or even an offensive lineman trying to learn a playbook. There are calls and plays he needs to learn, but it’s no where as complicated as it might be for other positions.

“Hopefully by this preseason game I’ll be alright,” he said. “I hope they allow me to play. I hope I can get in there.”

He’s also hoping to make the team. Defensive tackle might not have as many open spaces come cutdown day if Rogers and Austin are on the 53-man roster. If he does make the team, Thomas said he’s looking forward to ditching that ugly 61 jersey.

Then again …

“I might end up rocking the 61,” he said. “I might stick with it, there’s no telling. Depending how I do in these preseason games. I may stick with it. It’s time for a change, I may stick with the 61.”

Hey, they dropped the asterisk from Maris’ 61 eventually too.

New York Sports