Rich Cimini, ESPN Staff Writer 351d

Jets' three-way player gets permanent spot and new number

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Lawrence Thomas last week became the first New York Jets player in three years to play offense, defense and special teams in the same game. He played well enough in his new position -- fullback -- to earn a permanent spot on offense.

The defensive end, No. 97 in your program, is now a fullback, No. 44.

"He's going to line up at fullback, but he'll play defense in emergencies," coach Todd Bowles said Wednesday.

They changed his number because it saves him from having to report as an eligible receiver every time he enters the game as a fullback. That can be an annoyance, especially with as much as he's been playing. In the last two games, he played 14 and 12 snaps at fullback.

"It feels good just to be able to do so much at the highest level," Thomas said. "It's like going back to my roots -- little league football, high school and college. I like being able to do everything, being the versatile player that I am. It's showing I can do it all right now at this high level."

Thomas was an All-American middle linebacker in high school but was moved to fullback when he arrived at Michigan State. As a freshman, he blocked for Le'Veon Bell and caught seven passes. He played his final three seasons on the defensive line, catching the Jets' attention. In 2016, they signed him as an undrafted rookie. He appeared in three games before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury.

He moves exceptionally well for a big man (6-foot-3, 286 pounds), so the Jets decided to try him in the backfield. Two weeks ago, he almost scored on a 15-yard reception. In last Sunday's win over the Jacksonville Jaguars, Thomas was a three-way player -- 12 snaps on offense, eight on defense and 20 on special teams.

Former Jets defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson logged three-way duty in seven games in 2013 and 2014, but he never played more than two snaps on offense (fullback) in any one game, according to the Jets. He was strictly a goal-line blocking back, although he did have two rushing touchdowns. Thomas is a legitimate fullback; he plays in regular personnel groupings. They don't have a natural fullback on the roster, so why not?

Thomas said he's "all for it," and he doesn't anticipate any problems learning the offense. The ultimate goal?

"Scoring a touchdown would be amazing," he said. "It would be a dream come true, but I just want to do what's best for the team."

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