Ezekiel Elliott told no lies about Cowboys rookie quarterback Ben DiNucci, who appears poised to make his first NFL start in a playoff-implicating affair Sunday night against the rival Philadelphia Eagles.
“He definitely has a little s**t to him, confidence, he takes command of the huddle and that’s great especially coming from a young guy since you honestly don’t know, he hadn’t played any snaps in this league up until last week,” Elliott said Wednesday, via the Dallas Morning News.
DiNucci, the 231st overall pick of the 2020 draft, also took command of the media corps during his conference call Thursday. He was relaxed, humorous, confident — nothing like a guy with more sacks taken (3) than passes completed (2) under his belt.
“This is the opportunity of a lifetime,” he told reporters, per the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “This is everyone’s childhood dream, getting a chance to be starting quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys. What more do you want?”
And seemingly not at all concerned over the prospect of facing the underrated Eagles defense on the road in primetime, a defense with the third-most sacks (24) and seventh-ranked secondary (220.4 yards per game), a defense led by blitz-happy coordinator Jim Schwartz.
A defense which figures to step up its aggression on the seventh-round talent.
“I assume so. I would. Bring the whole house. Why not? We’ll make up for it. It’s all good,” DiNucci told reporters Thursday, via the Dallas Morning News.
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The Week 8 tilt — whether he not he gets the starting nod for Andy Dalton, who remains in concussion protocol — will be something of a homecoming for DiNucci. He attended high school in Pennsylvania and began his collegiate career at Pitt before transferring to James Madison following his sophomore year.
DiNucci finished his JMU tenure with 5,716 yards, 46 TDs, and 18 INTs over 29 appearances. He saved his best for last, completing 70-percent of his attempts in 2019 for 3,441 yards, 29 scores, and only six picks, earning AFCA First Team All-American honors.
A strict-ish pocket-thrower at 6-foot-2, 211 pounds, though he’s not the strongest or tallest, DiNucci prides himself on his ball placement and dual-threat ability. The former was on display in last Sunday’s loss to Washington; his first pro completion was a beautiful 32-yard sideline strike to wide receiver Amari Cooper. The latter has been on display.
Mike McCarthy said rookie QB Ben DiNucci was clocked at 20-21 miles per hour in some runs this year.
DiNucci: “I might have had the wind at my back a little that day.” Said he has been clocked in the 40-yard dash at 4.67 seconds
— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) October 29, 2020
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Elliott isn’t the only player close to DiNucci who’s noticing the first-year signal-caller might be built a little different. Take it from someone catching his passes, WR Michael Gallup: “Dude, he’s been slingin’ that thing.” Or someone on the other side of the ball, linebacker Jaylon Smith: “Slinger. Full of confidence. You see a fire in his eyes. We believe in our brother.”
Typical in this business, DiNucci quickly found himself on a literal and figurative rollercoaster. This time last week, he was holding a clipboard for Dalton, expecting another 60 minutes of game inactivity. Now he’s atop the depth chart, replacing the man for whom Dalton held a clipboard not long ago. On Wednesday, he made sure to remind Dak Prescott of the irony.
“Kind of just walked up to him and said, ‘Hey this isn’t what you said my rookie year was going to be like.’ He laughed and gave me a hug and just said, ‘We’ve talked about this. Go out there and do you,'” DiNucci told reporters, via the Dallas Morning News.
Follow Zack Kelberman on Twitter: @KelbermanNFL