Another week, another episode in the books for this season of “Hard Knocks” on HBO.
On Tuesday, August 10, the Dallas Cowboys went under the spotlight as the featured franchise for the 2021 season of Hard Knocks, with the season premiere showcasing a few of the team’s key personalities in Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, Micah Parsons, and more.
A week later, NFL fans got another peek at what life is like during a training camp with the Cowboys, all while the league prepares for its first 17-game regular-season schedule.
After a successful season premiere, here’s how the second episode of “Hard Knocks: The Dallas Cowboys” played out.
The episode starts right away with Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy calling for his team to up the intensity ahead of the team’s second preseason game against the Arizona Cardinals.
“I want you guys to get on the edge tonight. Give a little extra, stay within the rules,” McCarthy said. “We gotta get on the edge. The personality of our football team has to take a step tonight.”
“All I care about tonight is the physicality of the football game.”
Ironically enough, right after the show’s intro, the episode shifts to a yoga session for the team’s players, as narrator Liev Schreiber explains the need for relaxation during training camp.
“Serenity isn’t an easy thing to find at an NFL training camp,” Schreiber said. “But it’s essential to combat the Cowboys’ whirlwind schedule.”
“Serenity now, practice later.”
Jumping back into the action, the episode truly begins with some familiar faces in Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott, with the former in the need of some baby powder for a hygiene concern and the latter waiting on his shoulder to heal.
With Prescott out of the fray due to his injury, he’s told to help his quarterback counterparts, specifically Ben DiNucci.
“You gotta add something to the swag,” Prescott said, as he roasted DiNucci’s look.
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” DiNucci said.
Unfortunately for DiNucci, things do need to be fixed at practice after a poor performance in the team’s preseason opener.
McCarthy told DiNucci during the game that he was operating slowly, and quarterbacks coach Doug Nussmeier gives tips during a meeting.
The team works on their cadences and timing during a team meeting, with highlights of each quarterback playing over the top, as well. DiNucci shows off his wheels, and follows it up with a showcase of his chess skills against star rookie Micah Parsons.
“Quarterbacks are always one step ahead,” DiNucci said.
Transitioning to the other side of the ball, viewers get their first glimpse at star defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence, who is prepping for his eighth NFL season. While highlighting a beach day for the Lawrence family, the “Hard Knocks” crew begins its heavy focus on the team’s defensive line.
Defensive line coach Aden Durde gets some shine as he asks for his players to work on mental toughness, and the episode dives into his journey from NFL Europe to his coaching gigs in the Untied States.
Terrell Basham gets some of the spotlight for his impressions of Durde’s English accent, along with his on-the-field abilities.
But, he’s forced to miss time after rolling his ankle during a joint practice with the Los Angeles Rams, half of last year’s season of “Hard Knocks.”
During that joint practice, the animosity builds to a boiling point, ultimately culminating with Rams star defensive lineman Aaron Donald getting into a fight with Cowboys offensive lineman Connor Williams.
“That man is a monster,” Cowboys wide receiver CeeDee Lamb said about Donald.
After the dust clears on the incident, the Cowboys shine at the joint practice, with DiNucci, Lamb, and company all making big plays against their NFC West counterparts.
After practice, the focus is put on the players’ families, transitioning to the story of another Cowboys defensive lineman: Azur Kamara.
Discussing his family’s experience fleeing from the Ivory Coast when he was a child, Kamara reveals that his family eventually settled in Arizona, the site of the Cowboys’ second preseason game in 2021.
For the first time in Kamara’s career, his family will watch him play in an NFL game.
Shifting gears back to the quarterbacks, Prescott gets cleared to start light throwing, but is ultimately limited once again as far as reps are concerned.
“They pulled me,” Prescott said after his brief stint at practice. “I’m on a pitch count, they called in the reliever.”
Even when he’s not in on the action, Prescott puts in the work on the mental side of things.
“Every rep is an opportunity to be your rep, whether you’re in or not,” Prescott said.
While Prescott looks to get better mentally, Lamb continues to improve during actual reps in the team’s offense.
His abilities even catch the eye of another former number 88: Cowboys legend Michael Irvin.
“Oh my God, CeeDee Lamb has been a terror on the football field,” Irvin told Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.
“This guy wants to go out and make the plays,” Jones replied. “We just got to use it. We’ve got to have it in his hands.”
After watching clips of Lamb’s highlight-reel catches from practice, the second-year wideout discusses the reputation of his jersey number.
“88 is a real legacy here,” Lamb said, mentioning Irvin, Drew Pearson, and Dez Bryant. “There’s a lot of pressure in that jersey and I want to exceed all expectations.”
From there, the episode turns to the Cowboys’ second of four preseason games, with Elliott, Prescott, and company remaining off the field in favor of younger players in need of in-game reps.
Parsons gets in on more big plays during the second NFL game of his short professional career, helping to force a fumble on one play and recording a tackle on another later on.
Unfortunately for the rookie, his time on the field is short-lived for the second week in a row, and the Cowboys head into halftime with a four-point deficit on their hands.
DiNucci makes up for his Week 1 performance in a big way in the second half, leading a drive towards the end of the third quarter and beginning of the fourth that eventually leads to the Cowboys’ first touchdown of the summer.
The effort gave the Cowboys a 16-13 lead, and the attention shifts back to the defensive to finish out the episode.
Kamara comes up with a big play that seemingly ended the Cardinals’ comeback hopes, recording a strip-sack that appeared to seal the deal for the Cowboys. However, a false start nullifies the play, and the Cardinals used the opportunity to kick a game-tying field goal late in the fourth quarter.
Another penalty on a play involving Kamara proved to be costly, but on the other end of the spectrum. The referees missed an offensive holding call that prevented Kamara from making the play, and the Cardinals eventually kicked a game-winning field goal to give the Cowboys an 0-2 preseason record.
“I thought our young guys were going to pull it out,” McCarthy said as he walked off the field.”
Regardless of the score, McCarthy was happy with his team’s efforts.
“I love the way you fought tonight, that’s great work,” McCarthy said. “Playstyle got better tonight, that was clearly evident.”
From there, the Cowboys head back home to Dallas, and begin their preparations for their third preseason game against the Houston Texans.
Episode 2 did a nice job of continuing the main storylines from the season premiere as it relates to Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott, while adding in a new element with the wide-ranging personalities on the defensive line.
Both Aden Durde and Azur Kamara have fascinating stories, giving some fun perspective to the journeys of one of the team’s important coaches and one of the team’s Cinderella stories on the defensive line itself.
While legacy and history are important to the Cowboys, evident by the presence of Irvin (in a virtual setting) halfway through the episode, highlighting the youth in Kamara, CeeDee Lamb, Micah Parsons, and more helps to focus on the newer generation of Cowboys.
Through it all, it adds in some nice wrinkles to a busy season of “Hard Knocks.”
Seeing Prescott’s return to the field will undoubtedly be an interesting part of Episode 3, along with the recoveries of players like Amari Cooper and DeMarcus Lawrence on either side of the ball.
Regardless of how the next week plays out, the “Hard Knocks” crews made the right choice in picking up the Cowboys for the 2021 season, and fans are getting some great television as the league prepares for the start of the 17-game regular season.