Dak Prescott’s hunger to play football is insatiable, Micah Parsons’ hunger for mid-practice snacks is not satisfied, Ezekiel Elliott needs help wrapping birthday gifts and Jerry Jones takes notes with a No. 2 pencil.
The season premiere Tuesday night of the Dallas Cowboys’ third appearance on “Hard Knocks” had no shortage of banter, quirks and expletives.
The “Hard Knocks” premiere shed light on Prescott’s return from a gruesome ankle injury and subsequent development of a shoulder strain. In short: The Cowboys’ $40 million quarterback would not stop working … and worked so hard he suffered an overuse injury related to the latissimus muscle in his throwing shoulder. Prescott has not meaningfully thrown for two weeks since exiting the Cowboys’ first padded practice. Cowboys doctors consulted Texas Rangers and New York Yankees trainers for advice, “Hard Knocks” footage confirmed.
Head coach Mike McCarthy, mics revealed, needed just a single word to express his emotion from the sideline that afternoon. It rhymed with “duck.”
And yet, Tuesday’s debut episode featured far more humor than it did frustration from injury. Prescott’s friendship with draft classmate Elliott peaked as Elliott aimed to surprise his quarterback with a gift-wrapped luggage bag … only for Prescott to knock on Elliott’s hotel room door at an inopportune moment, just as Elliott was preparing the gift, complete with an apt card reading “YOU MUST BE REALLY EXHAUSTED FROM KICKING SO MUCH ASS.”
Elliott’s response when Prescott interrupted the YouTube video-guided gift-wrapping session? The running back slammed the door in the face of his QB.
“What you want, man?” said Elliott, who would also help his offensive linemen smash a cake in Prescott’s face on his 28th birthday. “You trying to ruin the surprise.”
Here are five more key highlights from the debut episode:
1. Dak Prescott’s work ethic
“Hard Knocks” took viewers behind the scenes of Prescott’s initial maniacal training, including his “575” GPS measurement that trainers and coaches ruled too high. Prescott’s response to the pitch count: “I’m not coming out this [expletive]. I sat last year enough. … I don’t know why the [expletive] they took me out of them reps for.
“I’ll let y’all know if I’m [expletive] sore or something’s bothering me.”
Days later, after his shoulder strain, he would need to.
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2. The Micah Parsons-Dan Quinn dynamic
Parsons’ personality has been on display since the day the Cowboys selected the linebacker 12th overall in the 2021 NFL draft. “Hard Knocks” further showed what’s on his mind, from mid-practice snacks – “Penn State used to have snacks at practice. I loved that. … The lion’s always hungry,” Parsons says – to special tutelage from his defensive coordinator. Footage showed Parsons beat on one deep route, then diving for an interception shortly later. Parsons displayed the ability to learn and grow quickly.
“That was your first time on the run away from you. That’s why you’ve got to [expletive] go,” Quinn told him. Parsons explained how he was caught up on an initial play before discerning how to break free on the second.
The coach-player dynamic continued into the Hall of Fame Game, in which Parsons flashed ball hawk skills to recover a fumble. Still, Quinn called down from the booth to alert Parsons his opportunities were over after 11 defensive snaps.
“Be super [expletive] aggressive,” Quinn tells Parsons, who answers a corded phone on the sideline. Parsons implores: “Can I get one more (series) for tonight?” Quinn declines. “This sucks,” says Parsons who then calculates nine collective hours of sitting awaiting him on the sideline, in buses and on airplanes.
3. Inside look at Mike McCarthy’s motivation
The “Hard Knocks” debut captured Mike McCarthy’s Austin Powers-themed footage introducing “Mojo Moments” to Cowboys practice, in which unprompted situational work befell the offense and defense. But perhaps McCarthy’s mojo moment of the debut came when he compelled players to embrace the work ethic a Super Bowl champion team must exhibit.
“It’s hard not to reflect on what we went through last year,” McCarthy began, referencing the Cowboys’ 6-10 campaign in his debut season. “[Expletive] last year.”
McCarthy demanded players not “waste each other’s time” in the training camp that would set the tone for their 17-game 2021 slate.
“Charlie [expletive]-around, he doesn’t work here, OK?” McCarthy said. “High school Harry, get his ass out the [expletive] door. This is about winning. It’s about winning the world championship. Period. Period. Because that’s all that matters.”
McCarthy, who won Super Bowl XLV as head coach of the Green Bay Packers told players that winning records and postseason success aren’t enough.
“And once you hold that [expletive] trophy up, I’m going to tell you: It’s [expletive] heavier than you think it is.”
4. John Fassel’s … vasectomy?
Coaches are teachers after all, right? “Hard Knocks” cleverly opened the scene with a note that players on 90-man training camp rosters always worry about getting cut. Then, the scene dissolves into special teams coordinator and de facto minister of fun John Fassel taking questions about his vasectomy.
“Did you lose your drive?” asked one player, whose face the camera crew did not show. “Oh no,” Fassel quipped immediately to a room full of laughter. “Everything is exactly the same.” After further details, a special teams contributor told Fassel: “Coach, you a soldier.”
Tune into HBO Max for a further anatomy lesson.
5. Dak Prescott, wingman of the week
If viewers shut off “Hard Knocks” before the credits finished rolling, they’d have missed some of Prescott’s best lines. Prescott, knowing he was miced up for “Hard Knocks,” asks what appears to be an equipment assistant whether he has any girlfriends the assistant would like to shout out via the mic.
“Just making sure,” Prescott tells a blonde youth with a Gatorade towel draped over his shoulder. “I can help you with your love life if you need it.”
The assistant’s response: “Yeah, I need all the help I can get it.”
Episode 2 of “Hard Knocks: The Dallas Cowboys” debuts on HBO and HBO Max on Tuesday, Aug. 17 at 10 p.m. ET.
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Jori Epstein on Twitter @JoriEpstein.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Hard Knocks 2021: Dallas Cowboys’ Dak Prescott’s work ethic on display
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