'Hard Knocks: The Dallas Cowboys'—Five Storylines to Watch out for in HBO's new NFL Series

Hard Knocks is back. The latest installment of HBO's cult documentary chronicling life in an NFL training camp hits the screens at 10 p.m. ET on Tuesday, with the Dallas Cowboys returning to the series for the third time and the first time in 12 years.

From the ever-present Jerry Jones to Dak Prescott's comeback from a grueling injury, there will be plenty of talking points across the series.

Here are five storylines to follow over the next five weeks.

The Jerry Jones show

Love them or loathe them, the Cowboys are ideal documentary candidates. "America's Team" is a franchise that generates its own news cycle on and off the field, thanks in no small part to Hall of Fame owner Jerry Jones.

The owner and de facto general manager—some would say de facto head coach, at times—is never short of quotes and relishes the spotlight perhaps more than any of his colleagues across the four major U.S. leagues.

Hard Knocks is BACK.

Watch the @DallasCowboys Aug. 10 on @HBOMax. 🔥 pic.twitter.com/FKoiUFXuFQ

— NFL (@NFL) August 3, 2021

Expect Jones to feature prominently—perhaps even more than he did on Amazon Prime's All or Nothing: The Dallas Cowboys series three years ago—and to be a near-ubiquitous presence in meeting with players, head coach Mike McCarthy and other members of the coaching staff.

Similarly, it's very unlikely Jones' appearance on the show will be limited to football and it will be fascinating (or infuriating, depending on your point of view) to hear his views on the impact COVID has had on the NFL and the league's schedule expansion, among a host of other topics.

The long shadow of COVID-19

Speaking of coronavirus, the pandemic will undoubtedly command a large role on Hard Knocks. While the NFL and the U.S. look far closer to normality than they did 12 months ago when Hard Knocks: Los Angeles covered the Los Angeles Rams and Los Angeles Chargers training camps in the midst of a global pandemic, coronavirus hasn't gone away.

Expect the new series of HBO's documentary to delve into the impact COVID-19 had on the NFL last season—Cowboys' running back Ezekiel Elliott contracted the virus last summer—and on the current training camp, with strict health and safety protocols in place.

Dallas Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy
Dallas Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy and quarterback Dak Prescott look on during training camp at River Ridge Complex on August 3 in Oxnard, California. Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

Vaccination will also be a talking point, particularly after the NFL made clear last month it won't delay or postpone games in the upcoming season to accommodate a coronavirus outbreak among unvaccinated players and staff.

"I got the vaccine just because I wanted to put myself in the best situation to be out there for my team week in and week out," Elliott told ESPN last month.

"But I mean, not everyone feels that strongly or maybe other people still have their view of vaccines. You can't force someone to do something that they don't want to do to their body. [...] I mean it's everyone's body. Can't tell them what to do with it. So I mean it's kind of touchy. You just can't go tell somebody."

Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott, meanwhile, sidestepped a question from a Dallas Morning News reporter who asked whether he had received the jab.

Dak Prescott's comeback

Last season, Prescott was on track to obliterate several NFL's passing records after throwing for 1,856 yards with nine touchdowns and four interceptions in five games.

A season-ending leg injury in Week 5 against the New York Giants stopped Prescott's run and derailed the Cowboys' campaign, with Dallas managing just one touchdown in the first three games without its star quarterback after scoring at least 31 points in four of the first games he played in.

The Cowboys doubled down on Prescott in the offseason, handing him a four-year contract worth $160 million, which will make him the second-highest paid player in the NFL behind Patrick Mahomes both in terms of total value of the contract and average annual salary.

Hard Knocks should give viewers a clearer picture of where Prescott is on his road to recovery.

Dallas Cowboys QB Dak Prescott
Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott looks to pass the ball during training camp at River Ridge Fields on July 24 in Oxnard, California. Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

A nod to the Hall of Fame

The Cowboys featured in the Hall of Fame Game, the NFL preseason's traditional curtain-raiser, last week and then saw wide receiver Drew Pearson and safety Cliff Harris—two of the columns of the team that reached three Super Bowls in four years between 1975 and 1978—enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, over the weekend. The Cowboys take their history very seriously—Jones is himself a Hall of Famer—so expect to see some footage from Canton during the series.

If that were to be the case, it wouldn't be surprising to see a fleeting cameo from Jimmy Johnson. The 78-year-old led the Cowboys to back-to-back Super Bowls in the 1992 and 1993 season and was enshrined into the Hall of Fame last year, when it made clear the acrimony that accompanied his divorce from the franchise was a thing of the past.

America’s team is back.

Hard Knocks: The Dallas Cowboys premieres August 10 on @hbomax. pic.twitter.com/wijBo95JWC

— HBO (@HBO) August 3, 2021

Can the Cowboys break their Hard Knocks playoff curse?

Since the series launched in 2001, only six of the teams featured on Hard Knocks made the playoffs the following season.

The Baltimore Ravens and the Cincinnati Bengals both went 10-6 in 2001 and 2009 respectively, while the New York Jets won 11 games the following season as the Bengals did in 2013. The Houston Texans went to the postseason in 2015 after going 9-7, while the Los Angeles Rams became the first Hard Knocks team to make the playoffs in five years last season after finishing with a 10-6 record.

The Cowboys fell short of the postseason after their first appearance on Hard Knocks in 2002 when they went 5-11 and missed out on the playoffs again three years later, despite improving to 9-7. Can they snap the streak this season?