For the 16th installment of Hard Knocks, the Dallas Cowboys training camp takes an even bigger stage than normal. There’s no shortage of storylines from Cowboys camp, but this season is even more intriguing for many reasons. Oxnard, California, has quietly been infiltrated by camera crews, and the dramatic tone from the narration of Liev Schreiber will captivate the HBO audience.
When does Hard Knocks start?
Hard Knocks premiers on HBO Max from Cowboys training camp on August 10 at 10 PM ET. To watch it, one must have HBO, which is a paid streaming service beginning at $15 per month (or, if paying yearly, a one-time $150 purchase). One may also add HBO Max to their Hulu or Amazon accounts for that same monthly price.
Storylines from Cowboys training camp
America’s Team never lacks storylines to draw from. The Hard Knocks series does a fantastic job pulling drama out of what’s around them for maximum entertainment value. This season, however, is particularly interesting for the Cowboys.
Star players on PUP
Both Amari Cooper and Demarcus Lawrence begin the year on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list. Lawrence has slimmed down a bit before the 2021 season, but he’s coming off his third back surgery in the past five years.
His progress has been slow, and that will continue for the rest of camp in California and probably late into the preseason. Lawrence is the emotional leader on the defensive side, and he’s one of the smoothest talkers in the league. Although he’s not on the field for Hard Knocks, he’ll probably make his presence known on the sideline during preseason games and practice sessions.
There’s less concern surrounding Cooper. He’s slowly coming back after having foot surgery after the 2021 season. Cooper is one of the best route runners in the NFL, so having a foot as close to 100% is important. He’s one of the most understated receivers in the league.
Neither player’s recovery is particularly concerning for the Cowboys heading into the regular season. Both have battled through injury for most of their careers. Cooper has battled plantar fasciitis for years now and learned, for the most part, how to manage the pain.
Dak Prescott injury scare
Hard Knocks wants the Cowboys’ franchise quarterback on your television, but they may not get him as much as they want. On July 28, Prescott felt some soreness in his throwing shoulder and left the practice field. He could be gone for weeks with a latissimus strain.
Shoulder injuries and quarterbacks can be a recipe for disaster. It wouldn’t be surprising to see the HBO crew really dig into what this injury could mean for the Cowboys. One thing is for sure — the defense is going to look a lot better now without having to face Prescott in practice.
After the endless list of Cowboys injuries in 2020, the team is proceeding into 2021 with individual bubble wrap for all its major contributors. Dallas does not want to risk their stars before it’s necessary. Although they wanted to get Prescott reps during the preseason, that may be in jeopardy now.
Defensive Depth Chart: What’s it look like on Hard Knocks?
Cowboys media body-slammed this defensive unit into the turds last season, claiming it was historically bad. Although early in the year it certainly appeared that way, they actually ended up in the bottom third of the league in efficiency. Still, the defense did allow the most points in franchise history.
Many changes were made to the defensive depth chart heading into 2021, and there is still a ton of unknown. The Cowboys drafted two cornerbacks in the first three rounds to pair alongside Trevon Diggs, but the battle for starting privileges still rages.
The team just signed Malik Hooker, and they signed Damontae Kazee in free agency to address their ever-ailing free safety spot. Keanu Neal also followed defensive coordinator Dan Quinn to Dallas, but he goes from strong safety to WILL linebacker. Those three free agents should receive quality air time on Hard Knocks.
THAT is the biggest defensive storyline. Who is starting at linebacker for the Dallas Cowboys heading into Week 1? Jaylon Smith got paid, so he’ll have every opportunity to start. Leighton Vander Esch is in the final year of his rookie deal after the Cowboys decided not to pick up his fifth-year option, so he, too, could get the first go of things.
However, they drafted Micah Parsons with the No. 12 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. They also drafted Jabril Cox in the fifth round, which is considered one of the best values in the draft. It’s a loaded room, and seeing how the team navigates the rotation is the most fascinating roster storyline.
This is chess, not checkers
Speaking of Parsons, he’ll probably be one of the stars of the show. The high draft pick has a booming personality. The evidence showed immediately during minicamp when he began jawing at Cooper about playing him in chess.
Shortly after, there was an Instagram video of Cooper and his superior skills on the board beating Parsons. It taught the young linebacker a valuable lesson. It didn’t take long for Parsons to get his revenge on Cooper. However, his overall record against the receiver is not pretty.
There have been whispers about Hard Knocks cameras already capturing some chessboard action. It’s tough to believe it won’t be an off-field theme for the show.