With the new series of Hard Knocks now available on NFL Gamepass, let's take a look at some of the key storylines around 'America's Team' as we head towards the 2021 season kickoff. The Dallas Cowboys are a franchise that always grabs our attention. And it will be no different this summer, especially with the TV cameras following their every move.
Slowed by an arm injury in the early stages of training camp, Dak Prescott will be desperate to get up to full speed ahead of the new season. The strong-armed and mobile 28-year-old was playing like an NFL MVP early last year and was on pace to throw for close to 6,000 yards before he suffered a serious foot and ankle injury.
With a new $164 million contract signed in the offseason, Prescott should bounce back to lead a potent attack in 2021 and take his place among the elite passers in the game today. But he needs to get back on the field soon and his health is going to be a big story as we head towards the end of August.
The Dangerous Receivers
The Cowboys have arguably the most dangerous receiving trio in the NFL in Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup and CeeDee Lamb. Each of the triplets topped 800 receiving yards in 2020 and each scored at least five touchdowns.
But there is room for improvement. Over the past two seasons, Cowboys' receivers have dropped 81 passes – most in the NFL. If this group can become as consistent as they are explosive and talented, Dallas could, once again, field the top offense in the NFL. Either way, the passing attack will be fun to watch.
By his own very high standards, running back Ezekiel Elliott did not enjoy a very good 2020 season. Zeke had as many fumbles (six) as rushing touchdowns and his rushing yards per game slid for the fourth successive year to 65.3, ranking him 14th in the NFL.
But Elliott has returned to the field looking crisp and motivated during the early days of training camp. How the carries are shared out between the veteran and Tony Pollard will be fascinating to watch on Hard Knocks. Operating behind a fit-again offensive line and with a franchise quarterback under center will also make life easier for Zeke and the running game.
The Cowboys never got going on defense last season and that led to changes in the coaching ranks. Former Atlanta Falcons head coach Dan Quinn now returns to his defensive coordinator roots to bring the best out of what could be a talented unit.
DeMarcus Lawrence must re-find his pass-rushing form after two seasons of being held under 10 sacks. Linebacker Jaylon Smith will get some help from active rookie Micah Parsons, who I feel could end up becoming a star of this Hard Knocks series. The secondary that allowed 34 touchdown passes last season will be in the spotlight throughout training camp to see if needed progress is being made.
The Cowboys will feature a Brit in their coaching ranks in 2020 as Aden Durde returns to the team that gave him his first NFL coaching break. Aden will tutor the defensive line alongside Cowboys legend Leon Lett and I am intrigued to see his continued NFL growth.
What I'm more intrigued to see is how my old friend copes with the Hard Knocks cameras tracking his every move. Aden is all about football and never more comfortable than when he is on the field coaching his players.
I'm not sure he always shares that same level of comfort when the cameras are around or he is being interviewed by the media. I'm going to watch his every move with great interest and amusement. But I am very proud of what he is continuing to achieve in the NFL, serving as an inspiration to international coaches everywhere.