There’s no better team than the Cowboys to be the latest NFL subject of HBO’s “Hard Knocks”. The training camp documentary series is enjoying its 16th season in 2021 and where there’s Dallas, there’s always drama.
No team has appeared on “Hard Knocks” three times until now the Cowboys, who also were featured in the 2002 and ’08 editions. A lot has changed for the franchise in the 13 years since the most recent appearance, but there’s no question Jerry Jones’ team remains America’s most polarizing team.
So long Quincy Carter and Emmitt Smith. Goodbye Pacman Jones and Felix Jones. The new stars from Oxnard to “The Star” are now headlined by Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott.
Just in case you miss any of the five new-season episodes on HBO or HBO Max, here’s where you can get a recap of each episode, including the teaser trailers.
Hard Knocks Episode 1[embedded content]
The show wastes no time in looking back on the worst nightmare for Cowboys fans in 2020 — Prescott suffering his scary season-ending ankle injury against the Giants. The quarterback shares his surgical scars and relives the painful emotions. Then we see him step back on the practice field, declaring his season of adversity would be replaced by a season of triumph — just in time to roll the opening credits.
Prescott does a little dance with Elliott back in camp in Oxnard, which is now packed again with Cowboys fans in Southern California. Jones gets emotional himself thinking about how difficult the past year has been to get back to this point. The action goes back to Prescott, throwing perfect passes and moving well, before Dallas’ coaching staff thinks he’s doing too much too fast.
The focus flips to Prescott’s tight friendship with Elliott, forged from being backfield mates since the 2016 draft and fortified by celebrating July birthdays within a week of each other. As Elliott is talking about this, Prescott knocks on the door, only to have it slammed back in his face so he doesn’t see the gift box Elliott got for him.
Zeke continues to mess with Prescott by taking his bicycle — the Cowboys’ preferred mode of transportation around camp — for a joyride. The slimmer Elliott is determined to rebound from a rare shaky season in which he had some trouble holding on to the ball. He’s OK letting go of the handlebars instead.
Liev Schreiber gets to make a punny narration joke about “getting cut,” with the action turning to Cowboys special teams coordinator John “Bones” Fassel — without getting snippy — telling the players about how his vasectomy worked, complete with Vas Deferens references.
While the excitement over Prescott’s return is curbed by a shoulder strain that keeps him out of practice, the attention turns to the defense, with first-round linebacker Micah Parsons getting the rookie spotlight. Cue up the hype montage, including his speedy pursuit of Elliott and a camp interception.
There’s a bit more drama with Prescott staying out on the field too long, as coach Mike McCarthy prefers he sits out and checks out his shoulder. Head athletic trainer Jim Maurer recommends to the coaches and Jones that Prescott not try to force any throwing for a while. Jones responds by shaking extra salt onto his breakfast sandwich, which appears to be a McGriddle.
McCarthy introduces the “Mojo Moment,” looking for players who show a certain confidence and charisma in camp, inspired by an Austin Powers film clip. Fans find the moment to wish Prescott a happy birthday on July 29. Zeke presents him with a cake, which is promptly served straight on Dak’s face. Prescott gets to open his gift from Elliott, which is a fancy new studded suitcase made for more stylish road trips.
There’s even more McCarthy, reminding the Cowboys he won a Super Bowl with the Packers and about his strong Pittsburgh roots. His parents are front and center in Canton, Ohio, for the team’s preseason opener against Pittsburgh. The offense is without Prescott and Elliott, giving Parsons free reign to be the star of the night on defense. Parsons’ only disappointment is not getting a chance to play more.
After a few obligatory game highlights, it’s Schreiber closing with a hard-knockery monologue about what defines the Cowboys in camp, making it hard to believe this is the same guy in the Mattress Firm ads.
Hard Knocks Episode 2
McCarthy takes the early spotlight with a cliched, profanity-laced motivational speech before the opening credits. Then it’s a little “soft knocks”, with Schreiber dropping a “serenity now” Seinfield reference while the team relaxes for Monica, its camp yoga instructor. Then it’s back to Elliott, who is having issues with his “gooch” that requires some immediate baby powder attention.
Time for a Prescott injury update: He’s still not allowed to throw with his shoulder needing rest, so he focuses on helping the backups, who still include second-year QB Ben DiNucci. We see DiNucci doing his thing in camp, with plenty of help the coaches, too. His speed is on display on the field, before he puts his mind to the test by beating Parsons in a game of actual chess.
Defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence makes his first appearance of “Hard Knocks”, joining his family for a little beach down time. Cue the montage of showing how good of a veteran pass rusher Lawrence is. We learn from his wife Sasha about how DeMarcus has matured and grown as a person and father over his Cowboys career.
We meet defensive line coach Aden Durde, who made a cameo in the first episode. Durde, a Briton who once played in Europe, was brought along with Dan Quinn from Atlanta. There’s a natural bit in emphasizing Durde’s strong English accent, including a reporter aksing about a reverse “Ted Lasso”, Jerry Jones likening him to Winston Churchill and defensive lineman Tarell Basham doing his worst impression.
Basham goes to work against the Rams in a joint practice, only to roll his ankle,.which leads to him missing time with the injury. The heat of camp brings out the intensity in both teams, with much physicality and some fisticuffs with Aaron Donald, the NFL’s most feared defender, making the Cowboys well aware of his presence. Then it’s meeting more of the Cowboys’ families.
We meet end/linebacker Azur Kamara, who made the Cowboys’ practice squad as an undrafted free agent from Kansas last year. A native of Cote D’Ivoire, he left Africa for America to pursue his late developing passion for football. Kamara is working hard to make the active roster under Durde’s wafchful eye.
Prescott is busy doing his “mental reps”, throwing and running through as much as he can on the side to stay sharp in camp. He makes the most of practicing on a pitch count.
Stud second-year wide receiver CeeDee Lamb gets his turn for hype, much to the delight of Jones and “The Playmaker,” Michael Irvin. Lamb makes play after play in camp, before packing up and getting ready to return to Dallas to reunite with his dogs.
The second preseason game, at Arizona against the Cardinals, kicks off. The Cowboys’ defense is active and Parsons, like the Steelers’ game, is in the middle of the action making plays. Once again, from the stands, his mother Sherese is his loudest supporter. Durde and McCarthy attempt to inspire the players to finish well after haltime. Kamara gets into the game and makes a big play while being cheered on by his own proud mother.
DiNucci also does his best to try to secure a roster spot behind Prescott by leading.a go-ahead drive capped by a TD pass. It’s up to Kamara and the bottom-roster defense to preserve the game. He seems to have a game-clinching strip sack, only to have it not count because the Cardinals false-started. The Cardinals tie the game and get back in position for the game-winning field goal when the officials fail to call a holding penalty committed against Kamara. Kamara’s effort is still praised with his mother showing the most love.
Hard Knocks Episode 3
(to be released Tuesday, Aug. 24, 10 p.m. ET on HBO, HBO Max)
Hard Knocks Episode 4
(to be released Tuesday, Aug. 31, 10 p.m. ET on HBO, HBO Max)
Hard Knocks Episode 5
(to be released: Tuesday, Sept. 7, 10 p.m. ET on HBO, HBO Max)
Hard Knocks schedule 2021
|Episode 1||Aug. 10, 10 p.m. ET||HBO, HBO MAX|
|Episode 2||Aug. 17, 10 p.m. ET||HBO, HBO MAX|
|Episode 3||Aug. 24, 10 p.m. ET||HBO, HBO MAX|
|Episode 4||Aug. 31, 10 p.m. ET||HBO, HBO MAX|
|Episode 5||Sep. 7, 10 p.m. ET||HBO, HBO MAX|