Dallas Cowboys will be featured on HBO's 'Hard Knocks' in 2021

·7-min read

The Dallas Cowboys will be featured on the 2021 edition of HBO's "Hard Knocks." The NFL and the network both officially announced the show Friday.

The Cowboys were one of five teams this year that could be compelled to take part in the show, and they were the most obvious choice of the five.

The 16th season of the show — and the 20th anniversary of its debut — will kick off Aug. 10 at 10 p.m. ET. Keeping with the show's traditional format, Liev Shreiber will narrate the five-episode series with behind-the-scenes looks at "America's Team" as it tries to rebound from a tumultuous 2020 season.

This is the third time the Cowboys have been featured on "Hard Knocks." Their first two appearances came in 2002 and 2008.

“We are thrilled that Hard Knocks will be returning this summer and excited for our return to the NFC East and the Dallas Cowboys franchise,” HBO Sports vice president Jonathan Crystal said. “We are beyond grateful to the Cowboys for opening up their doors and allowing HBO and NFL Films to spend the summer with one of the sport’s world’s truly iconic franchises as they prepare for the upcoming season.”

The Cowboys will be back in Oxnard, California after last year's camp was kept at the team's facility in Frisco, Texas because of the COVID-19 pandemic. A 30-person film crew will document more than 1,750 hours of content for the five one-hour shows.

Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys will be featured on HBO's 'Hard Knocks.
Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys will be featured on HBO's 'Hard Knocks." (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

Training camp starts July 22, with an opening news conference the day before. The Cowboys will travel to Canton, Ohio for the Pro Football Hall of Fame Game on Aug. 5, the day after former Cowboys receiver Drew Pearson is inducted. The Cowboys also will have a joint practice the week after that with the Los Angeles Rams, who were co-headliners for the 2020 season of "Hard Knocks."

Here are five compelling storylines we'll be tracking for Dallas during camp: 

Dak Prescott

The franchise QB suffered a dislocated and compound fracture of his right ankle in Week 5 that forced him to miss the final 11 games of last season.

Prescott averaged 422.5 yards passing the first four full games. Equate that over the full season, and he was on pace to throw for 6,760 yards. And over 17 games? Prescott would have passed the 7K mark.

The team was only 1-3 in those first four games and finished the season 6-10, its worst mark in five years.

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This offseason, the Cowboys rewarded Prescott with the contract extension he sought. The deal was for four years and $160 million, with $122 million of it guaranteed.

It was a major leap of faith for a player coming off a serious injury. Prescott feels confident his health issues are behind him.

"I've buried the injury," Prescott said during June minicamp. "... From the point of practice, from the point of just moving forward and going about my life, I've buried it mentally. And I think you guys and a lot of people around have to help me in burying it as well as we move forward."

Mike McCarthy

The embattled former Green Bay Packers coach certainly didn't envision his first season in Dallas going the way it did.

His predecessor, Jason Garrett, suffered only one losing season after he took over midway through the 2010 season. McCarthy turned in winning records for a stretch of nine years out of 10 in Green Bay but went a combined 10-17-1 in his final two seasons there before being fired after the 2018 season.

McCarthy spent a year away from the game before reemerging with the Cowboys. His critics suggested he did little in that time to adapt to the modern game — a complaint Packers fans loved to voice at the end of his tenure there. 

MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA - NOVEMBER 22: Head coach Mike McCarthy (L) of the Dallas Cowboys speaks with team owner Jerry Jones prior to their game against the Minnesota Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium on November 22, 2020 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
Head coach Mike McCarthy (L) of the Cowboys speaks with team owner Jerry Jones prior to their game against the Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium on Nov. 22, 2020 in Minneapolis. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

The coach who won 60 percent of his regular-season games, made the postseason nine times and won Super Bowl XLV (in the Cowboys' home stadium, no less) is determined to refurbish his image this season.

Is McCarthy on the hot seat? Maybe. The COVID-19 constraints placed on him last year certainly had an impact on the Cowboys' season. They were the same obstacles the other 31 teams had to deal with. This season, with those excuses mostly gone, we'll find out how well McCarthy can still coach.

Owner Jerry Jones certainly will have a say on the matter. Believe it or not, Jones has been pretty patient with his coaching decisions in recent decades. The last time Jones fired a head coach after his second season was Chan Gailey, who went a combined 18-14.

There certainly is major pressure on McCarthy to show significant improvement in Year 2. BetMGM has set odds of -150 for the Cowboys to make the playoffs this season, with a +125 return on a "no" bet. The over-under for wins this season (with a 17-game schedule) is set at 9.5, with even odds (-110) on both sides of the ledger.

Jones, who turns 79 in October, said time is not his or his team's ally. 

“I don’t have time to have a bad time," Jones said. "It’s not on my schedule.”

Dan Quinn's defense

There has been one major change on defense. Out is the 2020 defensive coordinator, Mike Nolan. In: former Atlanta Falcons head coach Dan Quinn.

Jones did not protest when McCarthy dumped Nolan after one year. It was a move many expected in the wake of the Cowboys allowing a franchise-worst 473 points in 2020.

Quinn has some work to do. The Cowboys added plenty of bodies on defense this offseason, including eight draft picks and their first six overall selections. That group is led by Micah Parsons, the 12th overall selection, but he joins a crowded LBs room and must show he's ready for action after opting out of the 2020 season at Penn State.

Have the Cowboys made massive personnel upgrades? That's debatable. There is a lot of youth on that side of the ball and a lot of new faces trying to absorb Quinn's scheme changes. He's expected to run a zone-heavy plan, as Quinn did in Atlanta and when he was a coordinator in Seattle. How quickly can this hodgepodge group adapt?

And can holdovers Demarcus Lawrence, Leighton Vander Esch, Jaylon Smith, Trevon Diggs and others improve on their 2020 showings?

The NFC East appears wide open. Without major defensive improvement, the Cowboys could find themselves as also-rans again.

Whither Ezekiel Elliott?

Zeke is at a crossroads in his career as he gets set to turn 26.

He's coming off his worst statistical year, with career lows in yards per carry, yards per game and touchdowns and tied his career high with six fumbles (five lost). Elliott ran for more than 100 yards only twice last season and scored only twice in the final 10 games — despite Prescott being out during that stretch, when Dallas needed Elliott to step up most.

Can Elliott rebound? He's set to hit the salary cap for $13.7 million this season and has nearly $37 million in dead money remaining on his deal. For better or worse, the two appear tethered together for the immediate future.

Elliott's commitment and conditioning have been a concern over the years. But he's posted a slew of workout videos this offseason that appear to show him in great shape. Prescott says his back looks good so far.

“Zeke looks great," Prescott said recently. "He’s in the best shape of his life. Looking fast. Obviously, everybody’s seen the clips of him working out independently with his running back coach. His cuts, just how explosive he is.”

Now it needs to show up again on the field. When Prescott and Elliott were humming in 2016 and 2018, the Cowboys won 10-plus games each year and made the playoffs. 

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