Don’t know much about Ben DiNucci?
You’re not alone.
In fact, after Andy Dalton took a head shot that knocked him out of the Cowboys’ loss in Washington, the Eagles began to scramble to learn as much as they could about the Cowboys’ third-string quarterback.
With Dak Prescott out for the season and with Dalton in the NFL’s concussion protocol, it’s likely the Eagles on Sunday night will be facing a rookie quarterback with a total of 15 NFL snaps under his belt. Dalton has missed practice all week, while DiNucci has gotten first-team reps.
The Eagles know enough about the Cowboys’ offense but they didn’t know enough about DiNucci, the rookie from JMU, so they went to the film room.
The Eagles have even leaned on scout Jim Ward (who now covers the Midwest region but used to cover the Northeast) this week to learn more about DiNucci.
“Yeah, we were on that tape (Monday) watching some of his college film, just getting a feel for him more as an athlete and some of the throws that he made and things like that,” Jim Schwartz said. “Anybody that makes an NFL team is good enough to play, so I think you start there. That's going to get your respect right away. You're good enough to make a 53-man roster, that deserves our respect, just watching him run some zone read stuff when he was at JMU, our scouting staff has really helped us that way.”
That’s been a theme all week: Don’t take anyone lightly.
Here are a few facts about DiNucci:
- Benjamin Anthony DiNucci, who turns 24 next month, was a seventh-round pick (No. 231) out of James Madison University this past spring.
- DiNucci was a high school star at Pine-Richland in Western Pennsylvania and was named the Pennsylvania Sports Writers Class AAAA Player of the Year, becoming the first player in state history to throw for over 4,000 yards in a season.
- DiNucci originally committed to Penn but then attended Pittsburgh. After three seasons at Pitt, DiNucci transferred to JMU, where he started 29 games in 2018 and 2019. In those two years, he completed 479 of 687 passes (69.7%) for 5,716 yards with 45 touchdowns and 18 interceptions.
- Despite not being invited to the combine, DiNucci became just the second JMU quarterback and the 16th overall JMU player ever drafted.
- Before the draft, TheAthletic’s Dane Brugler ranked DiNucci as the 25th best quarterback in the draft but he was the 11th QB out of 13 selected.
- If this football thing doesn’t work out, DiNucci is available for hire.
Against Washington, DiNucci threw three passes and completed two for 39 yards. There’s not much to go on there, and there wasn’t a preseason, so it makes sense that the Eagles are diving into his college tape.
“Definitely you got to look back and see what throws did he like to make in college, did he like to scramble when pressure came?” Jalen Mills said. “Did he like to — when there wasn't pressure, he was just sitting in the pocket and it opened up, did he like to scramble? Was he scrambling to throw? Was he scrambling to run? And then outside of that when you're watching on film, at the end of the day, regardless of what round you're picked in, the guy's an NFL quarterback.”
Here’s what NFL analyst Bucky Brooks said about DiNucci before the start of the 2020 season:
“DiNucci is an intriguing developmental prospect with the QB2 potential down the road. He gives the Cowboys a young quarterback prospect in the QB room with the physical traits and upside to emerge as a solid backup quarterback. If he flashes in training camp, DiNucci could buy some time as a QB3 or Practice Squad player until he is ready for a bigger role in a couple of years.”
With DiNucci at quarterback, JMU put up a tough fight against Carson Wentz’s alma mater and FCS powerhouse North Dakota State in last year’s FCS Championship Game but lost 28-20. But JMU is a really good program and won the FCS championship in 2016. That’s the only year since 2012 that NFSU hasn’t won it.
“I know as an FCS guy, JMU competed,” linebacker Alex Singleton said. “They’re the only ones that beat North Dakota State ever in this last 10 years. So he’s a good quarterback. Obviously, we expect a little different things from him, but we’ll watch the film as we needed to go.”
Now in his fifth year as the Eagles defensive coordinator, Jim Schwartz is 6-1-1 against rookie quarterbacks, which includes the tie to Joe Burrow earlier this season.
The main theme for the Eagles all week is to not take DiNucci lightly. The Cowboys expect to have All-Pro right guard Zack Martin back this week, they still have one of the best trios of receivers in the NFL and he’ll likely lean on Zeke Elliott too.
“He’s off to a good start,” Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy said earlier this week. “He’s been spending a lot of time here the last 48 hours, so we’ll go about the preparation as if he was going to start. He’s obviously young, a really good athlete, has good arm talent, very instinctive player. This will be a really good opportunity for him to get some reps and prepare as the potential starer.”
It’s a good opportunity for DiNucci, but it’s a good opportunity for the Eagles too, to not let a young unknown quarterback make a name for himself against them.
Not many people know about Ben DiNucci and the Eagles want to keep it that way.