In 2020, the Dallas Cowboys had four different quarterbacks start under center. That following a devastating season-ending ankle injury suffered by starting passer Dak Prescott in Week Five. One of those other starting quarterbacks was seventh-round rookie Ben DiNucci.
Making his professional debut as the starter on the road against a divisional opponent in the Philadephia Eagles, the player known affectionately as “The Nooch” struggled. And he did so in front of a primetime audience on Sunday Night Football.
The 24-year old rookie completed only 21 of his 40 passes (52.50%) for 180 yards and threw no touchdowns or interceptions against the Eagles. DiNucci was also sacked four times and fumbled the ball away twice in the 23-9 loss, although Dallas did lead the game by the score of 9-7 at halftime.
Following his poor performance, DiNucci never saw the field again as fellow backup quarterback Garrett Gilbert would put up a much better effort against the Pittsburgh Steelers the following week. And veteran Andy Dalton assumed primary passing duties afterward.
The Cowboys entered training camp last week with DiNucci, Gilbert, and Cooper Rush as the team’s backup quarterbacks behind a healthy Prescott, who appears to have successfully rehabbed from his injury. The trio of backups have two games of starting experience in the NFL combined.
Dallas still seems unsettled at the position as the team reportedly visited with a couple of free-agent quarterbacks this offseason in Jeff Driskel (who later signed with the Houston Texans) and Brett Hundley, the latter being a former backup passer for now Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy during his time with the Green Bay Packers.
But perhaps DiNucci could change their minds this summer. Here’s what McCarthy had to say about the development he’s seen from his young quarterback this offseason according to the team’s official website …
“I thought definitely [DiNucci] was one of the top guys in the offseason program as far as weight gain and strength gains in that particular area. We’ve just got to get him playing with a little more patience and a little more confidence … His skillset is definitely what we’re looking for. He needs to take that second-year jump that we talk about with our second-year players. Up until this point he has done that.”
In the same article that recently appeared on DallasCowboys.com titled Training Camp Battlegrounds for July 23, the author mentioned the fact that DiNucci has gotten the attention of the coaching staff and that could potentially put him over the top of both Gilbert and Rush for the primary backup role in Dallas.
Wilting under the spotlight of his first professional start last season, DiNucci figured to be a more likely candidate for the practice squad in year two rather than the primary backup role. That due in large part to the better play from Gilbert in his lone start last season and the fact the Cowboys seemed to be actively looking to add a more experienced veteran to the position.
But DiNucci has clearly put in the work this offseason to improve to the point of impressing his head coach. This is also a developmental player who is finally getting a full and proper offseason training program under his belt following the pandemic-restricted one he experienced as a rookie last year where the entire preseason slate of games was canceled.
Perhaps no one player could benefit more from the Dallas Cowboys’ upcoming preseason games than Ben DiNucci. If the young quarterback can see some significant snaps, showcase his development, and put up eye-opening performances during those exhibitions, perhaps the sour taste of his first NFL start will begin looking more like a stepping stone than a squandered opportunity.