The 16th season of HBO's Hard Knocks premiered last night, and for the third time since the series began in 2001 the Dallas Cowboys are the featured team. The first episode featured the team returning to Oxnard for training camp, Dak Prescott's return from injury, and the Hall of Fame game against the Steelers in Canton.
Prescott's ankle injury was only covered briefly, as the introduction focused on the team moving forward and the energy around the league returning to fans at practices and games. Prescott said he “just wanted to fix it” when he broke his ankle against the Giants in week five, and was carted off the field at AT&T Stadium.
The bigger story was the ongoing progress of Dak's shoulder strain, which has kept him out of more practice and scrimmage time than the newly-signed starting QB would like. The time he did spend throwing at the start of Cowboys camp was shown heavily, but so too was a concerned Mike McCarthy and Jerry Jones over his return to throwing post-injury.
Prescott has been participating in more recent practices, which is something to look for in next week's episode and beyond.
Before the Cowboys took the field against the Steelers, a fourth preseason game that both teams gained while the rest of the league plays three, a few “mojo” plays from practice were shown. While it's purposefully hard to gather much about the team's personnel usage on these plays, it was good to see Tony Pollard on the field at the same time as Ezekiel Elliott. The play resulted in a long touchdown pass to Elliott from Prescott.
.@EzekielElliott & @dak are best birthday buddies 🥺🎁 (via @NFLFilms)#HardKnocks: The @dallascowboys | Premieres Tonight at 10pm ET on @hbomax pic.twitter.com/JvHNgj1QYg
— NFL (@NFL) August 10, 2021
Kellen Moore has a lot of talent to work with on offense, and told the Dallas media on Tuesday he's looking forward to featuring different players depending on their matchups.
Cowboys OC Kellen Moore on utilizing all the weapons Dallas has on offense: pic.twitter.com/n1fVufDiMG
— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) August 10, 2021
His message to the team in the locker room at halftime against the Steelers was to finish drives, emphasizing third down and red zone conversions. The Cowboys were 20th in third down percentage and scored a touchdown on only half of their red zone trips in 2020, behind only the Giants and Jets. This was with an offense not unlike the one that took the field in Canton.
Starters like Micah Parsons did get playing time as the first round pick was highlighted, pleading with Dan Quinn for more playing time after his fumble recovery. Plays like this along with the induction of Jimmy Johnson and Drew Pearson into the Hall of Fame make the score from the team's first exhibition meaningless – a 16 to 3 win for Pittsburgh.
The McCarthy family being from Pittsburgh, as well as his Super Bowl win coming against the Steelers at Jerryworld, were also shown on Hard Knocks.
The Cowboys are back in Oxnard for practice, have cleared WR Amari Cooper and DE DeMarcus Lawrence off PUP, and will face the Cardinals for their second preseason game on Friday. The next Hard Knocks will be on Tuesday, August 17th.