Fans reached the halfway point of the 2021 season of “Hard Knocks” when the Dallas Cowboys took center stage on Tuesday, August 24.
The team’s training camp ahead of the NFL’s first 17-game regular-season schedule has been interesting, no matter which side of the ball you tend to prefer.
On offense, starting quarterback Dak Prescott’s recovery from a shoulder injury, all while preparing for his return from a devastating leg injury, has been a massive storyline to follow.
As a result of the butterfly effect, the focus on backup quarterback Ben DiNucci’s battle for a roster spot has added some intrigue, as well.
On defense, the rise of rookie linebacker Micah Parsons is a welcome sight for Cowboys fans, along with the spotlight on the team’s wide-ranging defensive talents, specifically on the defensive line.
Add in the stylings of head coach Mike McCarthy and the presence of team owner Jerry Jones, and “America’s Team” makes for some good television.
Here’s everything you need to know after the Cowboys capped off the third of five “Hard Knocks” episodes.
As the attention starts to turn to the need for roster cuts, the “Hard Knocks” crew kicks things off with offensive lineman Isaac Alarcon. In a meeting, offensive line coach Joe Philbin describes how the team was both encouraged and unimpressed with Alarcon’s performance in recent weeks.
On one hand, Alarcon showed promise in the team’s first preseason game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. On the other hand, he was “confused” and “misplaced” against the Arizona Cardinals.
“We’ve gotta see if we can get him cranked up this week,” Philbin said.
After the show’s intro, the episode takes viewers on a three-minute tour of “The Star” in Frisco, Texas, using a drone to fly through the varying parts of the team’s massive, 91-acre facility.
“There’s nothing like it in all of American sport,” narrator Liev Schreiber said. “No wonder they call it ‘The Star.'”
The show utilizes the development as a way to highlight Jerry Jones’ efforts in Dallas, showing the fan reaction as the team’s owner makes his way around the field at practice.
“Building this place was a heavy lift, it’s the realization of a dream,” Schreiber said. “The vision of one man: Jerry Jones.”
Addressing fans, Jones kicks things off with a familiar phrase: “How ’bout them Cowboys?”
“We are about not just dreams, but doing something about those dreams,” Jones said. “Do that, and you’ll see what this great game is all about.”
The focus shifts to the action on the field, with cuts on the way now that the team is four weeks into training camp.
After showing clips of Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott, who have been showcased as main characters throughout the 2021 season of “Hard Knocks,” the cameras head back towards Alarcon as he battles for a roster spot.
Cameras showcase Alarcon putting the Mexican flag on his helmet, and use the opportunity to highlight his family’s roots and the big man’s journey to the NFL.
“I’m not going to lie, my dream was never to get to the NFL,” Alarcon said, before discussing the International Player Pathway Program.
He also discussed his fandom for the Cowboys throughout his tenure internationally, saying how he had a Dak Prescott jersey from watching the Cowboys on Sundays.
“It really can’t be a coincidence,” Alarcon said when discussing how he landed with the Cowboys.
Elsewhere, fans get their first glimpse at Trevon Diggs, who FaceTimes his brother Stefon as the latter goes through training camp with the Buffalo Bills.
“I feel good, I’m excited,” Trevon tells his brother before the “Hard Knocks” crew introduces viewers to their mom Stephanie and Trevon’s son Aaiden. “Get to play a little more this week.”
Another “new” face gets some shine in the third episode of the season, as Cowboys wide receiver Amari Cooper makes his first appearance of training camp after rebounding from an offseason ankle surgery.
“I just want to play football, I just want to play healthy,” Cooper said. “Just about getting my legs underneath me.”
Unfortunately, lightning messes with Cooper’s plans to return to practice outdoors, and the team is then forced to practice inside “The Star.”
“I don’t mess around with lightning,” head coach Mike McCarthy said. “Lot of money on that field.”
After a montage of Cooper highlights, fans get a glimpse at the teaching the NFL veteran is able to provide to second-year wideout CeeDee Lamb ahead of the duo’s second season as a one-two punch.
Rookie running back JaQuan Hardy gets introduced to viewers, mainly because of an incident from the team’s most recent preseason game where he lost a contact midway through an offensive drive.
His teammates make fun of him for mentioning that he’s “one and one,” meaning that he had one contact in and one contact out, and the Tiffin University product is forced to return to his “rec specs” under his helmet to ensure full eyesight during games.
With the classes, he gets compared to “Ratchet and Clank,” “Kareem Abdul-Jabaar,” “Eric Dickerson,” and “Chuck Muncie.”
Elsewhere in the backfield, Elliott helps out the younger Hardy before showing out at practice himself.
Unfortunately for Elliott’s friend and the Cowboys starting quarterback, participation at practice isn’t as intensive.
Prescott officially gets taken out of the fray for the team’s remaining preseason games as the franchise hopes to protect its cornerstone.
“We just really don’t want to put him in a position where we can re-injure it,” McCarthy said.
Mail room supervisor Jonathan Jackson, a fourth-generation Cowboys employee, gets some spotlight, specifically for his abilities when it comes to card games against members of the team.
“That dude is Cowboy royalty,” Prescott told teammates.
After being replaced by Prescott in favor of Elliott, Jackson and rookie linebacker Micah Parsons pull out a victory in “Spades” to prove the team’s starting quarterback wrong.
A day later, Jackson looks to make amends with Elliott ahead of the team’s preseason game against the Texans.
“We’re still friends, right?” Jackson asked.
The episode then turns into the weekly recap of the team’s preseason game, which serves as a big opportunity for names like Alarcon, Diggs, Hardy and more.
After falling behind 7-0, the Cowboys offense storms back to take a 14-7 lead with less than two minutes to go until halftime.
In an effort to lock down the backup quarterback spot, Ben DiNucci heads into the huddle to take over for the second half, attempting to seal the deal for the Cowboys’ first preseason win.
A penalty on Hardy thwarts a big play offensively, much to the chagrin of star defensive lineman DeMarcus Lawrence.
“Those young guys, they don’t know their responsibilities,” Lawrence said.
Episode 2 star Azur Kamara gets some camera time, though the defensive lineman is unable to make much of an impact as he continues to get coached up by Lawrence on the sidelines.
Alarcon gets plenty of snaps offensively, and makes the most of the situation as his family cheers on in the stands.
Unfortunately, the same couldn’t be said for DiNucci, who throws a pick-six that ties things up before throwing a second interception that leads to a 20-14 Texans lead.
DiNucci appears to be leading a solid drive towards the end of the game, but throws his third interception of the game to seal the deal for the Texans.
With five cuts looming a few days after the game, McCarthy preaches the importance of smarter and stronger play in the coming weeks.
“We cannot play that way. We will not play that way.”
While Episode 3 featured many more faces than the season’s first two installments, there wasn’t a lot of substantive content as “Hard Knocks” reached its midway point in 2021.
There are plenty of stories to be told, between Alarcon’s and Kamara’s international journeys, Hardy’s pursuit of a spot in a talented running backs room, the battle for the team’s backup quarterback job, and the return of a star wide receiver in Amari Cooper
But, this episode featured a lot of filler content throughout, instead opting for a three-minute drone tour of “The Star” and using it to add a few minutes of Jerry Jones-centered footage that made it all look like an episode of “The Last Dance.”
Elliott and Prescott have enough personality to add some flare to the filler content, but there just wasn’t enough there to make this a worthwhile episode after the first two.
Roster cuts are always a big part of the “Hard Knocks” dynamic, which will make the show’s final two episodes much more entertaining to watch. But, this episode almost seemed like a throwaway in comparison to recent weeks, which may be upsetting for fans who had high hopes for a season focused on “America’s Team.”