Backup to big stage: Cowboys rookie, Clemson understudy in spotlight
From one hit away to the starting lineup, a new reality arrives this weekend for Dallas Cowboys rookie Ben DiNucci on Sunday night.
A seventh-round pick expecting to define the role of “extra arm” on a roster with Dak Prescott and Andy Dalton, DiNucci could start for Dallas in the NFC East date with the Philadelphia Eagles in prime time.
Prescott dislocated his ankle and is out for the season. Dalton is in concussion protocol and not yet able to practice. So here stands DiNucci, who tasted his first live NFL action last week at Washington following Dalton’s injury.
“I think in the span of 10 days I went from being in a sweatshirt and sweatpants to here we are, my number could be called,” DiNucci said Thursday. “This is everyone’s childhood dream, right? The chance to be the starting quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys. What more could you want? For me, this is an opportunity of a lifetime.”
The former Pitt quarterback who played two seasons at James Madison was picked 231st overall in the 2020 draft. Talk about connections. DiNucci played eighth-grade basketball for Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy’s brother in the Pittsburgh area.
Teammates on Thursday said DiNucci isn’t lacking for confidence or arm strength. Running back Ezekiel Elliott said the 23-year-old was “slinging it” while taking every first-team rep at quarterback this week. The swagger stood out to Dallas’ defensive personnel, too.
“Slinger,” linebacker Jaylon Smith observed. “Full of confidence. And that’s what I love: You see a fire in his eyes.”
Dalton has not been ruled out. But McCarthy did not sound optimistic about his status for Sunday’s game.
Prescott can relate to DiNucci’s predicament. A rookie fourth-round draft pick from Mississippi State, Prescott was pushed into the starting role in Dallas way ahead of schedule as a rookie. Tony Romo, whom you might recall was undrafted out of Eastern Illinois, fractured his back in the third preseason game of 2016.
Prescott took the reins, went 13-3, and never looked back. Prescott is making more than $31 million this season on the franchise tag.
Some jitters in his debut could be cause for alarm. DiNucci fumbled twice — Dallas recovered both — and faced steady pressure, which also happens to be the calling card of Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz.
But DiNucci claimed Thursday his job “is easy” in that he only needs to get the ball to his top three receivers. He’ll get a little help with All-Pro guard Zack Martin (concussion) and center Joe Looney (knee) likely to play.
“I’m taking it in stride,” DiNucci said. “Hey, this is 2020. What else do you expect? Here we are. Week 8 of my rookie year I’ve got a chance to go out there on ‘Sunday Night Football’ and do what I love to do. I couldn’t be happier or more excited.”
NO. 1 CLEMSON LOOKS BEYOND LAWRENCE
A week that began with Trevor Lawrence making headlines by suggesting he might come back to the college game for 2021 will end with the presumptive No. 1 pick in next year’s draft away from the team recovering from COVID-19.
Top-ranked Clemson is a heavy favorite Saturday against Boston College — 23.5 points, down from 30-plus points at most sportsbooks — even with freshman D.J. Uiagalelei likely to start.
Uiagalelei was the top-ranked pro-style quarterback in the 2020 class according to 247Sports’ Composite rankings. He had 127 touchdown passes in four seasons as a high school starter at St. John Bosco in Bellflower, Calif., and is listed at 6-5, 245 pounds.
Uiagalelei has played in five games this season behind Lawrence and has two rushing touchdowns along with completions on 12 of 19 passes for 102 yards.
While Lawrence is widely regarded as the Big Man on Campus at Clemson, he knows a stud when he sees one. At the first open session of the fall, Lawrence sized up his new backup.
“He’s huge,” Lawrence said. “He’s full grown already. He doesn’t have to put on any weight or anything.”
There is a chance Uiagalelei will be the starter again next week when Clemson takes the show on the road to face No. 4 Notre Dame. The ACC protocol for COVID-19 positive tests calls for self-isolation of 10 days.
–Field Level Media