'Hard Knocks' preview: Dallas Cowboys promise to bring star power

Hard Knocks is back. The acclaimed docuseries returns for its 16th season on Tuesday at 10 p.m. ET on HBO (it will also stream on HBO Max). As per tradition, I’ll author episode recaps that you can read the night of each episode’s airing.

In preparation for Tuesday’s premiere, here are some hypothetical FAQs about the upcoming season, which will feature the Dallas Cowboys for the third time in the series’ 20-year run.

What are some subplots we should expect in the season premiere?

The Cowboys are a global entity, and as such, they take brand maintenance very seriously. Any recognition of heroes of franchise past is celebrated with great tenacity, so expect much to be made of Jimmy Johnson’s enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame this past weekend.

Johnson and Cowboys owner Jerry Jones — a Hall of Famer himself — had a well-documented falling out after Johnson helped build the Dallas dynasty that produced three Lombardi trophies in the 1990s, but Johnson’s enshrinement speech made it clear that bad blood has been left in the past. Expect some exaltation of the Cowboys’ dominant run in the first half of the ’90s — the team hasn’t returned to the Super Bowl in the 25 years since its Super Bowl XXX conquest in 1996.

It was a huge weekend for the Cowboys in Canton. Wide receiver Drew Pearson and safety Cliff Harris — two pillars of the team’s ’70s dynasty — also received gold jackets. Then there was Thursday’s Hall of Fame Game preseason kickoff between the Cowboys and Steelers. Add it all up, and you can expect much Canton-based footage in the premiere.

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Who will get the most coverage across the five episodes?

I suspect ol’ Jerrah will receive the most camera time of anyone during the season. Jones loves the spotlight and also remains, at 78 years old, the principal team builder. Expect many conference-room chats with Mike McCarthy and Co. at The Star, the Cowboys’ fancy training facility in Frisco.

Aside from the boss, Hard Knocks producers will have no shortage of star wattage to choose from. Quarterback Dak Prescott, freshly paid and coming back from the gnarly leg injury that ruined the Cowboys’ season in 2020, is a natural focus point. Sometimes Hard Knocks can make news, and that may be the case with Prescott as he continues to miss time with a shoulder ailment. It will be interesting to see how much access the team gives NFL Films in this regard.

Running back Ezekiel Elliott — currently in the Best-Shape-Of-His-Life phase of his oddly cyclical career — also figures to get plenty of burn coming off a disappointing 2020 season. Elliott might need a big 2021 to stay in Dallas’ long-term plans, and I predict an intense workout montage for the three-time Pro Bowler in the premiere.

In a tease of the premiere, Zeke gets some unexpected conditioning via his search for temporary housing:

[email protected]’s first day of camp got off to a rough start. 😂@DallasCowboys | #HardKnocksNow pic.twitter.com/mkQtoRlJuq

Will we have access to hidden cam footage taken from aboard the Jerrah Bus?

If we don’t, what are we even doing here?

Which assistant coach has the best chance of stealing the show?

An assistant coach becoming an unlikely cable TV star is a tradition as old as Hard Knocks itself. Bob Wylie in Cleveland. Bryan Cox in Atlanta. Jay Gruden and Mike Zimmer in Cincinnati. Mike Westhoff with the New York Jets. The Cowboys have several coaches with Hard Knocks experience: Special teams coordinator John “Bones” Fassel and offensive line coach Joe Philbin have been documented extensively in past seasons. I imagine defensive coordinator Dan Quinn and offensive coordinator Kellen Moore could get some good run. Leon Lett is in the building as an assistant defensive line coach! I’ll take a wild guess here and nominate running backs coach Skip Peete. Let’s go Skip!

Will NFL.com provide comprehensive recaps of each episode of Hard Knocks through the Sept. 7 finale?

Yeah, I mentioned it in the first paragraph. Do you guys not read the opening blurb in these stories? No worries. I’ll author an extensive recap that will go up late Tuesday night with the accompanying Spotify playlist of all the best music from each episode. See ya then.

Follow Dan Hanzus on Twitter at @danhanzus.

You can access his Hard Knocks recap archive right here and here.

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