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HBO 'Hard Knocks' 2021: Best Cowboys Storylines, Moments, Reaction for Episode 1

Paul KasabianFeatured Columnist IIAugust 11, 2021

Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott in action during practice at the NFL football team's training camp in Oxnard, Calif., Wednesday, July 28, 2021. (AP Photo/Michael Owen Baker)
AP Photo/Michael Owen Baker

The Dallas Cowboys never lack for entertainment, drama and storylines regardless of whether they're dominating the NFL, struggling to the finish line or scuffling through a mediocre season.

There's always something to talk about with this team, which is why this year's Hard Knocks season stands to be a promising one.

The 2021 Cowboys are looking to bounce back from a 6-10 campaign that saw quarterback Dak Prescott lost for the season with an ankle injury suffered against the New York Giants on October 11.

The first episode focused some on Prescott working his way back to the field alongside a slight setback (a shoulder strain) suffered during camp.

His backfield mate, running back Ezekiel Elliott, also got a lot of air time.

Elliott is coming off a season where he gained 1,317 yards from scrimmage and scored eight touchdowns. That's a down year for Elliott compared to his previous work from 2016 to 2019, and he'll be looking to bounce back.

Elliott is best friends with Prescott, and that friendship was on full display in Episode 1 with some humorous moments between the two.

The Cowboys are also trying to regroup after a poor defensive season that saw them allow the NFL's fifth-most points per game.

They added former Atlanta Falcons head coach (and former Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator) Dan Quinn to run their defense, and their top 2021 draft pick was Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons.

The former Nittany Lion's work was a topic of discussion this week, wowing onlookers with his speed and potential.

Below you'll find a recap of all three storylines alongside some quick hits on a few of the episode's lighter moments.


Prescott's Recovery

"I love scars," Prescott said as the Hard Knocks season got underway.

This season opened up with Prescott talking about the scars he's accumulated over the years, most notably the wishbone-looking one that appears on his ankle, on which doctors performed two surgeries.

On the field, Prescott was clearly itching to get as many reps as he could after so much time away from the game.

He saw heavy activity early on, but that got ramped down. During a staff meeting following a practice, Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy was told that Prescott's was at "575," a metric the Cowboys use to measure practice activity.

That led to Prescott receiving fewer reps, and he was not happy. Jon Machota of The Athletic relayed the quotes.

"I'm not coming out of this b---h. I sat last year enough. ... I'll let y'all know if I'm sore or if something is bothering me. F--k, I've been out long enough."

ESPN NFL analyst Dan Orlovsky loves to see it:

Dan Orlovsky @danorlovsky7

“I’m not coming out this b____, I sat out enough last year”<a href="https://twitter.com/dak?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@dak</a> makes me want to root for him man-as a man he’s made me want to root for him👏👏<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/HardKnocks?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#HardKnocks</a>

Prescott remained on the field, but unfortunately, he suffered a shoulder strain that forced him back to the sidelines.

Cameras captured discussions between head athletic trainer Jim Maurer and team owner Jerry Jones, who was sitting at his desk while eating breakfast.

NFL Films @NFLFilms

Say "when." 🧂<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/HardKnocks?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#HardKnocks</a> <a href="https://t.co/3IIaf5G2Ct">pic.twitter.com/3IIaf5G2Ct</a>

Jones wondered whether Prescott could do light throwing work, and Maurer advised against it, citing conversations he had with the Texas Rangers and New York Yankees training staffs on shoulder strains.

"Those guys are seeing this kinda stuff all the time," Maurer said, per Machota. Their sentiments were caution to start. Give the injury plenty of time to heal."

Prescott has since resumed light throwing as of Aug. 7, per McCarthy to reporters.


Ezekiel Elliott

The former Ohio State star had a little trouble finding his training camp home to start off:

NFL Films @NFLFilms

.<a href="https://twitter.com/EzekielElliott?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@EzekielElliott</a>’s first day of camp got off to a rough start. 😂<a href="https://twitter.com/dallascowboys?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@DallasCowboys</a> | <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/HardKnocksNow?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#HardKnocksNow</a> <a href="https://t.co/mkQtoRlJuq">pic.twitter.com/mkQtoRlJuq</a>

But he looked good in camp, notably coming out of the backfield, catching a pass and taking it to the house for six:

NFL Films @NFLFilms

Running to the couch tonight like...🏃💨<br><br>1️⃣ more hour ‘til <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/HardKnocks?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#HardKnocks</a>! <a href="https://t.co/ZUPFVeplSb">pic.twitter.com/ZUPFVeplSb</a>

Elliott also got in some work on special teams, but it's doubtful we'll be seeing him there any time soon:

NFL @NFL

Not sure if we'll see <a href="https://twitter.com/EzekielElliott?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@EzekielElliott</a> on special teams anytime soon. 😅 (via <a href="https://twitter.com/NFLFilms?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@NFLFilms</a>)<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/HardKnocks?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#HardKnocks</a>: The <a href="https://twitter.com/dallascowboys?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@dallascowboys</a> | Premieres Tonight at 10pm ET on <a href="https://twitter.com/hbomax?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@hbomax</a> <a href="https://t.co/Od3IPji6kI">pic.twitter.com/Od3IPji6kI</a>

Elliott likely won't be getting much work in camp before the season starts though.

"I don't even think we should run him this whole camp," McCarthy said, per Machota. "He's up there in carries career-wise. He's in much better shape this year than last year."

Look for Elliott to lead the Cowboys backfield on Sept. 9, when Dallas plays at the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers to open the 2021 NFL season.


Prescott and Elliott: Best Friends

Highlights between the best friends included Elliott wrapping a gift for Prescott's birthday. Elliott watched a video tutorial on gift-wrapping before doing so, which many people who have ever had trouble with presents can attest to doing.

Vic Lombardi of Altitude Sports can relate to the stress:

Vic Lombardi @VicLombardi

Watching Zeke trying to wrap that gift gave me anxiety.<br><br>It's just too much work. <br><br>What's wrong with just handing the gift as is?<br><br>Or a Walgreen's gift card?<br><br>Why do we have to dress up a toaster?<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/HardKnocks?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#HardKnocks</a>

The quarterback eventually showed up at the door as Elliott was preparing the surprise.

NFL @NFL

.<a href="https://twitter.com/EzekielElliott?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@EzekielElliott</a> &amp; <a href="https://twitter.com/dak?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@dak</a> are best birthday buddies 🥺🎁 (via <a href="https://twitter.com/NFLFilms?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@NFLFilms</a>)<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/HardKnocks?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#HardKnocks</a>: The <a href="https://twitter.com/dallascowboys?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@dallascowboys</a> | Premieres Tonight at 10pm ET on <a href="https://twitter.com/hbomax?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@hbomax</a> <a href="https://t.co/JvHNgj1QYg">pic.twitter.com/JvHNgj1QYg</a>

Elliott also stole Prescott's unattended bicycle and later smashed a birthday cake in his face.

NFL Films @NFLFilms

Look Ma, no hands! 🚲<a href="https://twitter.com/EzekielElliott?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@EzekielElliott</a> | <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/HardKnocks?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#HardKnocks</a> <a href="https://t.co/lYfzYuRc65">pic.twitter.com/lYfzYuRc65</a>

Dallas Cowboys @dallascowboys

Special delivery for <a href="https://twitter.com/dak?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@dak</a>’s birthday with the help of our friends from <a href="https://twitter.com/UPS?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@UPS</a>.<br><br>Stay tuned to follow the 🎂’s journey to <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/CowboysCamp?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#CowboysCamp</a>. <a href="https://t.co/WING49wFJw">pic.twitter.com/WING49wFJw</a>

The pair have been together on the Cowboys since 2016, when Elliott was taken No. 4 overall in the draft and Prescott went in Round 4. They've won a pair of NFC East titles in their five seasons.


Micah Parsons

It's unclear how Parsons will turn out in the NFL, but no one can doubt his hunger and desire to get better. His speed and natural ability are also quite clear.

"Holy s--t he's fast," Prescott said at one point, per Machota. "I see you 11!" Parsons added: "The lion is always hungry."

That was clearly the case near the end of the episode, which featured Parsons getting some playing time during the Hall of Fame Game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Jon Machota @jonmachota

Cowboys LB Leighton Vander Esch to Micah Parsons during the Hall of Fame Game: “You’re trying to make all the plays. You’re trying to make every play. You gotta know when it’s your play to make.” <br><br>Parsons: “I’m still young. I be thinking all plays are my plays.”

Jon Machota @jonmachota

Rookie LB Micah Parsons on the phone with Cowboys DC Dan Quinn during the HOF Game: “Can I get one more (series)?”<br><br>Quinn: “Nope. That’s it for tonight.”<br><br>Parsons: “I’m just getting warmed up and adjusted.”<br><br>Quinn: “Me too.”<br><br>Parsons: “That was not enough.”

Parsons' family was in the stands for that game, cheering him on as the rookie made his professional debut.

Parsons opted out of last season amid the COVID-19 pandemic, but he racked up 109 tackles and five sacks in 13 games in 2019.


Random Moments

During a special teams meeting, Cowboys special teams coordinator John Fassel talked about getting a vasectomy and what that entails.

Sarah Spain @SarahSpain

For the first time ever I respect the writing of Hard Knocks.<br><br>“…one subject which always puts players on edge—getting cut.”<br><br>&lt; cut to &gt;<br><br>“Okay, so when I got my vasectomy done…” - John “Bones” (phrasing) Fassel

Speaking of sensitive areas, cornerback Reggie Robinson II accidentally hit wide receiver CeeDee Lamb in one during a drill. Lamb was shaken but valiantly forged ahead.

Elsewhere, defensive tackle Neville Gallimore sneezed during a position group meeting, and that appeared to make multiple people in the room do a double-take:

NFL Films @NFLFilms

.<a href="https://twitter.com/Path2Greatwork?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@Path2Greatwork</a> made the whole room do a double take. 😂<a href="https://twitter.com/dallascowboys?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@DallasCowboys</a> | <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/HardKnocksNow?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#HardKnocksNow</a> <a href="https://t.co/WzIFTMNgAj">pic.twitter.com/WzIFTMNgAj</a>

Offensive lineman Isaac "The Great Isaac" Alarcon also wanted to try Prescott's smashed birthday cake.

Episode 2 will air next Tuesday at 10 p.m. ET on HBO and HBO Max. This season is five episodes long, running every Tuesday at 10 p.m. through Sept. 7.