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Cowboys’ Ben DiNucci moving past ‘weird’ rookie season in backup QB battle: ‘That wasn’t me out there’

Ben DiNucci desperately tried not to lose himself in the music and the moment in 2020, but to instead own it and take the advice of Dak Prescott when he most needed it. But much like most other things for the Dallas Cowboys in 2020, it didn’t go as planned. With Prescott out for the season and Andy Dalton sidelined with a concussion, head coach Mike McCarthy pegged DiNucci as starter in Week 8 against the Philadelphia Eagles, and Prescott told DiNucci to “not overthink it” and to “go out there and do you”, but the former James Madison star readily admits he was a deer in the headlights. 

“Obviously, I played in two games last year, but I feel like that wasn’t me out there,” he said at the close of minicamp, via the team’s website.

As he enters Year 2, DiNucci does so in direct competition with Garrett Gilbert (and to a lesser extent, Cooper Rush) for the right to back up Prescott on the active roster in 2021. And considering how different things are this offseason as compared to last — i.e., the return of OTAs, minicamp, training camp and preseason — it stands to reason he’ll be better prepared than he was as a first-year guy.

“Yeah, I think last year was weird, and being a rookie I think that was just kind of all that we knew,” DiNucci said. “So this is really nice just getting in here and getting some reps, get comfortable going into camp and just kind of getting my feet on the ground. It’s a lot better when you’ve got guys around to bounce things off each other. It’s nice to be in the building and see faces and get out and practice a little bit.”

As far as how his one and only NFL start went, well, there’s much to be learned from the experience. 

DiNucci completed only 21 of 40 passes for just 180 yards with no touchdowns, along with losing two fumbles on 79 offensive snaps. It wasn’t all bad in the eventual loss, however, because despite being under siege due to an injury-ravaged offensive line, he didn’t throw an interception. And when you’re the Cowboys and DiNucci, looking for something that hints at a silver lining, that’s what sticks out in an otherwise forgettable outing.

“It was a surreal moment for me,” DiNucci said. “That’s something I’ll be able to say for the rest of my life – ‘Hey, I started a game for the Dallas Cowboys my rookie year.’ But I think just some positives for me, as you watched the game progress, I felt like I got a little more comfortable every quarter. Just some things, when the checkdown is there, take the checkdown, a positive play is a good play, no negative plays, just throwing the ball out of bounds when guys aren’t open. 

“Just things that come with playing. And that’s all stuff that I’ll be able to work out in the preseason. It’ll be nice to have preseason this year just to kind of be able to get back in the flow of games, play in games and get out there and show what I can do.”

A dominant QB at JMU who disappointed as an NFL rookie, 2021 is all about needing the real DiNucci to please stand up. 




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