PHILADELPHIA - Jim Schwartz is like many of you in that the Eagles' defensive coordinator doesn't exactly have a lengthy dossier on Ben DiNucci, the rookie seventh-round pick of the Dallas Cowboys who could be behind center in Philadelphia on Sunday night.
DiNucci was forced into the Cowboys' ugly 25-3 loss to the Washington Football Team in Week 7 after veteran backup Andy Dalton left with a concussion.
"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," said Schwartz on Tuesday morning.
Dalton, who took a hit from Jon Bostic that led to Bostic's ejection from the game, will need to pass through the concussion protocol quickly in order to play against Philadelphia. Starter Dak Prescott is already gone for the year with a compound ankle fracture, leaving DiNucci as perhaps the most likely option for a struggling 2-5 Dallas team.
Like many aspects of life, the NFL is all about relationships, and Howie Roseman, along with his former personnel chief Joe Douglas, now the GM of the New York Jets, created something called the cohabitation matrix. If anyone in the Eagles organization has information on a player, be it from a scouting perspective or a prior relationship, Roseman encourages them to speak up.
In DiNucci's case, the man with the intell is Jim Ward, an Eagles' scout for the past five seasons who has been following DiNucci's progression since his time at Pine-Richland High School in Gibsonia, Pennsylvania where the 23-year-old was once a USA Today All-American and the Pennsylvania HS Player of the Year in 2015.
Ward tabbed DiNucci as a potential professional prospect early on and through many twists and turns, which included an intent to attend the University of Pennsylvania before a shift toward backing up Nathan Peterman at Pittsburgh, and finally a starring role at FCS powerhouse James Madison.
"Just watching him run some zone-read stuff when he was at JMU, our scouting staff has really helped us that way," said Schwartz. "Our scout, (Midwest area scout) Jim Ward, has watched him since he was at Pitt. Actually, saw him when he was a high school player. Just those kinds of inputs and that kind of perspective helps us."
As a sophomore with Pitt, DiNucci got into the mix, being named the starting quarterback after a shoulder injury to senior Max Browne. He ultimately lost the job to true freshman Kenny Pickett, however, and the search was on for playing time.
That ended with a transfer to FCS James Madison where DiNucci started 29 consecutive games and became an AFCA first-team All-American as a senior and the CAA Offensive Player of the Year while leading the Dukes to the FCS Championship Game where they lost to Carson Wentz's ala mater, North Dakota State.
Dalton would be easier from a preparation standpoint due to his long stint as the starter in Cincinnati. Meanwhile, the specter of a rookie seventh-round pick comes baked-in with some hurdles, starting with human nature.
"Anybody that makes an NFL team is good enough to play, so I think you start there," said Schwartz. "That's going to get your respect right away. You're good enough to make a 53-man roster, that deserves our respect."
The trick is convincing his defensive unit of the same thing.
"I mean, we are always up for the Cowboys, really doesn't matter who is out there at quarterback," said the DC. "We'll be ready to go. They have enough playmakers without the quarterback, even considering a quarterback, that's going to keep our full attention.
"When you're talking about those receivers, they have got a good tight end group, obviously (Cowboys RB Ezekiel) Elliot back there, even (Cowboys RB Tony) Pollard, those guys can all make plays. They are not going to change their offensive game plan, whether it's Dalton or Ben in there at quarterback."
John McMullen contributes Eagles coverage for SI.com's EagleMaven and is the NFL Insider for JAKIB Media. You can listen to John every Tuesday and Thursday on "The Middle" with Eytan Shander, Harry Mayes, and Barrett Brooks on SportsMap Radio and PhillyVoice.com. He’s also the host of Extending the Play on AM1490 in South Jersey. You can reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen
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