You're up, Ben DiNucci. In a season that's seen the Dallas Cowboys devoured by the injury bug, things continue to get worse as the weeks roll by. Having already shelved a list of starters for either long periods of time to come or the entire season, devastation arrived when Dak Prescott suffered a compound fracture with dislocation to his right ankle on a scramble in Week 6. Two weeks later, Andy Dalton became the victim of a brutally illegal blow to the head that knocked him unconscious for a few moments and his helmet 10 yards downfield.
With Dalton immediately entering concussion protocol and ruled out of the game, it's currently unlikely he'll be cleared when the Cowboys visit the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday. That means DiNucci -- who was forced to finish out the bloodbath against the Washington Football Team in Week 7 -- could land his first career NFL start this week, and in prime time, no less. Sources tell CBS Sports the Cowboys aren't looking to sign a veteran starter who might only be needed for one week, but will instead look to DiNucci and potentially add another QB for depth, although the latter would run up against COVID-19 protocol issues as it relates to having said player available for Sunday (making them more of a Week 9 and beyond addition).
The former James Madison star wasn't expecting any of this to come barreling at him just six months after being selected in the seventh round and entering the season as the third-string quarterback, but he's also not running from the reality of the moment.
"Very unfortunate that that had to happen for me to get in the game," DiNucci told reporters afterward of Dalton's concussion, "But no time for me to get nervous or any of that. [I] put my helmet on, started warming up. My job, if I'm in there, is to do the same thing as Andy or Dak or whoever else is in there.
"So, no time to waste. Just have to try to pick up where they left off."
He readily admits, however, that the size and speed of players in the NFL has been quite the wake-up call.
"I think the biggest thing is, guys are just bigger than what I'm used to," DiNucci said. "Coming from James Madison -- FCS school- -- you don't see guys like Chase Young every day. But the bottom line is, football is football. It's the same game that I've been playing since I've been in seventh grade.
"I couldn't do anything else except go out there with a smile. I got in the huddle and said, 'Let's go. Let's have some fun. We've got nothing to lose. It's raining. There's no one in the stands. Let's try to create our own energy here and try to find some positives from this day and go put points on the board.'"
Unfortunately, the Cowboys were not able to, going on to take a 25-3 loss. After averaging 32.6 points per game through the first five weeks of football with Prescott under center, the league's No. 1 offense has mustered just 6.5 points over the last two games. With injuries all across the offensive line, DiNucci was baptized by the same potent Washington front that bullied Dalton for much of the game -- the two QBs being sacked a total of six times in Week 7.
Things won't get much easier with another dominant defensive front in Philadelphia staring through the window, but offensive coordinator Kellen Moore is already working to prepare DiNucci for what awaits him if Dalton isn't cleared to play.
"Get him prepared like he is the starter," Moore told media on Monday. "And if something changes, something changes. The biggest thing is the preparation, the communication, getting everyone on the same page. That is the key component to playing quarterback and Ben has to be ready to roll.
"Everybody coming off the ball and on the same page."
And as for Garrett Gilbert? The veteran quarterback signed when Prescott went down with injury is still working to learn the system, and would serve as DiNucci's backup, absent Dalton.
"Garrett had to go through the protocol coming down here," said Moore. "His first face to face opportunity just to see us was Sunday. Last Sunday, the previous Sunday. He has been here for a day over a week.
"So he has a learning curve. Garrett has been around the league for a while. But we have to get him prepared as well but we have gone down this situation. We have had a couple of guys go down.
"Guys [have] got to be ready. Guys [have] got to prepare like they are the starter -- no matter what situation you are in."
As for DiNucci, although he's not been given the green light as QB1 yet, the team begins practice on Wednesday and they'll have a much better idea at that point of if Dalton will have a shot at playing. If there's a sizable chance he won't, and there is, the sooner DiNucci can begin taking first-team reps -- the better.
"Haven't really thought that far down the road yet," DiNucci said of Dalton possibly missing the matchup against the Eagles. "But if that's how this thing is going to go -- I'm not sure how all the protocols work and stuff of that nature -- but if my number's called, shoot, I'll be the first one in the building [on Tuesday] and the last one to leave.
"I've got to prepare like I have been for the last two months. Nothing changes. I've learned more from sitting in a room with Dak and Andy the last two months than I have playing the last eight years. ... This team drafted me for a reason, and Coach McCarthy brought me here for a reason.
"So if my number's called in the future, I'm going to make sure that I do everything I can to keep this show on the road and make sure that other guys in the locker room have got as much faith in me as No. 4 and No. 14."
Only seven weeks into his NFL career, DiNucci is finding out just how fast life comes at you in the pro ranks. A year ago, he was leading JMU and garnering honors as a AFCA First-Team All-American, CAA Offensive Player of the Year and First-Team All-CAA talent. Now he's potentially tasked with leading the most visible sports team on the planet, who also happens to be in shambles at the moment. That's a ton of pressure for any player, let alone a rookie, but it feels more like a dream to DiNucci than a night terror.
Looking to make the best of his coming opportunities -- if allowed to by the ailing o-line -- a confident DiNucci says put him in, coach. He'll simply deal with whatever challenges come his way from that point forward.
"If you would have told me a year ago that this is where I was going to be in a year, I think I would say, 'No way,' " he said. "You'd have to pinch me, but here we are. It's 2020. No one really knows what to expect the next day, let alone a week down the road.
"So here we are."