Solomon Thomas getting guidance from DeMarcus Ware during absence

Solomon Thomas recently changed his jersey number to No. 94 in tribute to his new mentor, the recently retired DeMarcus Ware. Stan Szeto/USA TODAY Sports

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- San Francisco 49ers rookie defensive lineman Solomon Thomas didn't seem too concerned when the team issued him No. 96 just after the NFL draft.

After all, the Niners had just used the No. 3 overall pick on Thomas and though Thomas wore No. 90 at Stanford, he said he had no intention of trying to reclaim that number from veteran defensive tackle Earl Mitchell with the Niners.

"Earl Mitchell has it and he’s a veteran so I’m not going to even talk about it," Thomas said then.

Alas, while Thomas can't participate in organized team activities because league rules say his school must be finished with class before he can join the team, he quietly changed his previously issued No. 96 to No. 94, a number that hadn't been issued at all in a couple of years.

The No. 94, of course, belonged to former Niners defensive lineman Justin Smith, who is considered a franchise great and retired in 2015. And while Thomas isn't around to explain the change right now, an explanation actually came from former Dallas and Denver pass-rusher DeMarcus Ware on television Wednesday.

Appearing on NFL Network, Ware said he recently worked with Thomas and when it was over, Thomas called to let him know that he would be changing jersey numbers in tribute to the recently retired Ware.

“To have an opportunity to work on his technique, to now him call me and he said, 'DeMarcus, you know I’m going to wear No. 94,'" Ware said. "I'm like, 'Oh, man, really?' He said, ‘I want to emulate my game after you.' And I told him I was a great player when I played, but I don’t want you to be like me, I want you to be better than me. So I’m going to show some things that are going to get you to the next level. And to have a guy that's mature like that, he's worthy of the pick."

The real takeaway here has little to do with jersey numbers, though fans can now probably more confidently purchase the jersey of the Niners' top pick.

The bigger piece of news is that Thomas apparently has identified how he wants to handle his time away from his team while it is going through OTAs. And more to the point, he wants to use that time learning from one of the game's all-time greats. Ware even posted some video of his time working with Thomas on his Twitter account.

Upon his retirement, Ware ranks eighth all time in sacks with 138.5 and would seem to be a prime candidate for the Pro Football Hall of Fame when he's eligible in five years.

After their workout sessions, Ware said he came away impressed with Thomas not only for his maturity but also his physical ability as a player.

"When you get a rookie that’s mature to call a veteran and say, 'Can you help me before rookie training camp?' That was big," Ware said. "He has that dog in him. He's a strong boy now and fast. I said, 'Listen, don't touch me, I'm retired.'"

Ware went on to say that he and Thomas will continue to get together between now and training camp, something made easier by Thomas' hometown of Coppell, Texas, which isn't far from Ware's Dallas stomping grounds.

"I think he started off the right way mentally, going to a guy that he wants to emulate himself after but then getting the technique," Ware said. "I'm going to work with him this whole offseason and OTAs and the minicamp and then in July when everybody is off. He's right there in Texas so I'll be working with him also so he can have that carry over to the field. I feel that's what he has to do."