DALLAS — Ben DiNucci will take over as the third starting quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday night against the Philadelphia Eagles, and the seventh-round rookie already has the support of his veteran teammates.
At 2-5, on a two-game losing streak, with Pro Bowler Dak Prescott lost for the season with a broken leg, and backup Andy Dalton concussed in the previous week on the rain-soaked turf of FedEx Field, it would be understandable if the Cowboys didn't express any enthusiasm about the 23-year-old taking over for America's Team.
However, DiNucci's teammates have been supportive of the former James Madison Duke commanding the Cowboys offense.
"Ben's been nothing but a pro," running back Ezekiel Elliott said. "I think what Ben brings to the table is a young guy with a lot of arm talent, and then what else he can do is people don't realize is he can run a little bit. So, he'll be able to get outside the pocket and make some plays."
DiNucci filled in for Dalton in the 25-3 loss in Washington in Week 7, completing two passes on three attempts for 39 yards. The three sacks and two fumbles that DiNucci suffered were the downsides to his first NFL experience.
The Pine-Richland High School product from Gibsonia, Pennsylvania, knows the airpower is the biggest part of the 2020 Cowboys offense. On a second-and-19 from the Dallas 15-yard line, the rookie signal-caller threw a 32-yard pass to receiver Amari Cooper to advance the drive.
DiNucci's big arm has been evident in practice, according to wideout Michael Gallup.
Said Gallup: "He's been slinging that thing. He's been good. He comes up after every period that we got and he's like, 'My job is actually pretty easy, I've just got to get you three the ball and let y'all go to work. It's not that hard.'"
Throwing the deep ball is a byproduct of the former Colonial Athletic Association Offensive Player of the Year's confidence, which has been on full display in the huddle this week.
"He takes command of the huddle and that’s great, especially coming from a young guy since you honestly don’t know," Elliott said. "He hadn’t played any snaps in this league up until last week. So, you don’t know what you’re going to get but it definitely is a big help that he’s in that thing confident."
Though Zack Martin missed the Washington loss with a concussion, the All-Pro right guard has taken snaps with DiNucci in training camp and has observed different behavior this week compared to August, saying DiNucci has more "energy" and "swagger" playing with the first team.
"He's got a lot of confidence which is line one for me as a quarterback is confidence," Martin said. "Obviously with a young guy possibly making his first start, it's up to the rest of the guys on the offense to instill confidence in him. All the other 10 guys got to do our part every single play: run, pass, got to make him feel comfortable out there and all the weight isn't on his shoulders."
Even DiNucci's defensive teammates can see his competitive drive.
"Full of confidence, and that's what I love," linebacker Jaylon Smith said. "You see a fire in his eyes. So, I'm just looking forward to going back to back with my brother. We're going to make it happen."
The Cowboys face the Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field, where they have the best record of any NFC East opponent at 10-7. However, the Eagles are coming off 10 days rest following a 22-21 Thursday night win over the New York Giants in Week 7.
At 2-4-1, the Eagles can put even more distance between themselves and Washington (2-5), Dallas (2-5), and New York (1-6) for the division lead. If Dallas wants to stay competitive in the NFC East, they will need DiNucci's confidence and deep ball to manifest in points to lift them past Philadelphia.
Do you think Ben DiNucci will be able to come away with a win for the Cowboys in his starting debut on Sunday night against the Eagles? Share your thoughts with Mark on Twitter @therealmarklane.