OXNARD, Calif. – This has got to feel like a change for the better.
It's not even fair to say Ben DiNucci jumped right into the deep end last year. In that analogy, the young quarterback's 2020 felt more like being thrown into the pool fully clothed.
From being pressed into starting service in an emergency situation on Sunday Night Football, to working through his first true training camp – not to mention his first preseason game this Thursday night – it's no wonder that DiNucci is benefitting from basically living this NFL experience in reverse.
"Getting back to normal this offseason and having a normal offseason and OTAs, summer program, and now camp and preseason it will only benefit me," he said. "Those are reps I didn't have last year, so every rep that I get this year is really beneficial for me."
DiNucci deserves tons of credit for handling his start against Philadelphia gracefully, but this has got to be a preferable circumstance. Not only is he working through a more traditional training camp, after a full offseason program, but he's getting much more opportunity than a third-stringer is accustomed to. With Dak Prescott resting his sore shoulder, DiNucci is splitting second-team reps with Cooper Rush, which has given him a much larger workload over the last week.
"Last year during camp, I'd get two or three reps a day. That's tough for your confidence, right, when you're coming from college where you're the guy for a few years and you get every rep in practice," he said. "Being able to get out here this year and having maybe five to 10 reps a day, a little bit more today with Dak out this week. I feel like I'm progressing pretty well."
The next step is even more fun – a matchup with his childhood team. DiNucci went to high school just outside of Pittsburgh, and he played two years at Pitt before transferring to James Madison. He grew up rooting for franchise legends like Ben Roethlisberger, Hines Ward, Jerome Bettis and Troy Polamalu.
"We've had season tickets since I was little, we were right on the 30-yard line, closed in, about 15 rows up and would go to probably four or five home games a year," he said. "And if we didn't go we were on the couch every Sunday 12:30 getting ready for the 1 o'clock game."
How fitting then, that he'll likely get his next NFL action against the Steelers – and near his hometown, as well. With Canton, Ohio, sitting just under a two-hour drive from Pittsburgh, it's a great bet DiNucci will have some local support on hand to cheer him on.
"I've got a lot of family that's going to be out," he said. "It should be awesome. The only game on TV that night. Looking forward to getting in there and showing people what I can do."
It should be a fun measuring stick. DiNucci made the best of a bad situation last November, but it wasn't exactly a memorable performance. With much more time to prepare – and in a much more stable situation – there's every reason for optimism that this look will be a better one.
It's one game of four, so it's just part of the full picture. It's not even clear just how much DiNucci will play against the Steelers, as Garrett Gilbert is currently the presumed starter while Prescott sits out.
Either way, it should provide a clearer picture than last year. Not to mention, serve as a much more enjoyable welcome to the NFL.
"Whether it's one snap or three quarters, I'm going to go out there and treat it like I'm the starter whenever I'm in the game," DiNucci said. "The best I can do is prepare to the best of my ability and make sure I got my guys in the right spots."