Last year when the Cowboys kicked off training camp, their first under Mike McCarthy, it was shrouded in mystery, with no cameras and not even any numbers on the jerseys. This year, for round two of Mike McCarthy training camp, it will be the exact opposite with news that Hard Knocks will be featuring America’s Team for a record-third time.
As is often the case for the Hard Knocks show, there will be several players that are a little lesser-known to the general public who get a spotlight on them. For example, the last time the Cowboys were on the show, the Hard Knocks crew followed Danny Amendola, an undrafted wide receiver who ended up getting cut before going on to a very productive career that included winning two Super Bowls. So who could the Hard Knocks crew choose to focus on this time around? Here are five best guesses.
Nick Ralston, FB
Nick Ralston has already been designated by some (myself included) as an early choice for pet cat, and with good reason. Undrafted out of Louisiana, Ralston has alternated between running back, fullback, tight end, and linebacker in his college career but made his name as a utility fullback for the Ragin’ Cajuns. He’s also got a pretty awesome workout video pinned to his Twitter:
As an undrafted rookie competing at a position that most teams don’t even fill these days, Ralston’s odds of making the roster are admittedly slim. But that makes for a great story on Hard Knocks, especially when said player is the type of guy to literally drag a semi truck as a workout.
More than that, Ralston’s personality is that of a traditional football guy type. After transitioning to fullback at Arizona State, Ralston became a fan favorite for embracing the physicality of the role and seeking to restore the perception of the position in a football world that has nearly forgotten it. If the cameras are watching Ralston, they’ll pick up quite a show.
Ben DiNucci, QB
A recurring storyline throughout this offseason has and will continue to be the backup quarterback spot. And that’s the way it should be when a team is coming off a year in which their franchise quarterback missed the majority of the season and his backup left in free agency. The question on everyone’s lips is: with Andy Dalton gone, what happens if Dak Prescott gets hurt again?
Ben DiNucci will be one of the guys vying for that backup spot, alongside Garrett Gilbert and Cooper Rush. DiNucci may not be the favorite for the top backup spot, but he’s certainly the most entertaining. A seventh-round pick in last year’s draft, Mike McCarthy compared him to Marc Bulger after the draft. DiNucci was also praised for his confidence and swagger despite being a rookie.
Then he got into a game, and even started a game, and.... didn’t exactly do well. In fact, his play was so poor that Dallas turned to the recently-signed Gilbert the next week. But DiNucci drew a lot of attention in that one start, for better or for worse, and will now have a chance to redeem himself this season. That should make for a compelling subplot on Hard Knocks.
Tarell Basham, EDGE
The Cowboys signed and drafted a good deal of guys to play along the defensive line this year, and while the likes of Brent Urban, Osa Odighizuwa, and even Quinton Bohanna are generating some attention, Tarell Basham has flown under the radar a bit. That shouldn’t be the case, given his production last year for the Jets in which he led the team in pressures and finished tenth among all EDGE defenders in run-stop win rate.
Odds are good that Basham will fit in well with the Cowboys and make some strong impressions early on, which will undoubtedly catch the camera’s eye. It also helps that Basham is a fun interview. For example, his first media session after signing with Dallas started off with Basham taking shots at his former team:
New Cowboys DE Tarell Basham (former Jet/Colt) seems excited to be in Dallas. Two telling quotes in the first few moments of his press conference:— Mike Leslie (@MikeLeslieWFAA) June 3, 2021
“It’s been a while since I’ve played with an explosive offense.”
“I think I’ve done enough losing.”
Basham may not figure as prominently as others will on Hard Knocks, but it shouldn’t be a surprise if he ends up stealing some scenes either.
Isaac Alarcón, OT
Little is known about Isaac Alarcón at this point, but he offers a feel-good story that should be easy fodder for the Hard Knocks crew. Alarcón joined the team last year by way of the NFL’s International Player Pathway Program. While Alarcón didn’t make the final roster, the Cowboys thought highly enough of him to add Alarcón to the practice squad, and then sign him to a reserves/futures contract once the season ended.
As a result, Alarcón is still on the team heading into training camp. A cursory look at the Cowboys offensive line, which features the return of both Tyron Smith and La’el Collins, tells us that Alarcón’s odds of making the roster haven’t improved much. But the opportunity to highlight Alarcón as a player, as well the International Player Pathway Program at a time when the NFL is emphasizing their international appeal, seems like an obvious move for HBO.
Al Harris, CB coach
There’s always a couple of coaches who end up stealing the spotlight during Hard Knocks. Who could forget Rex Ryan’s many quotes from the Jets’ season on the show? Or when the Browns were featured and offensive line coach Bob Wylie broke the Internet?
If the Hard Knocks crew is looking for a Cowboys coach to highlight this time around, they need look no further than Al Harris. Sure, McCarthy and Dan Quinn will garner a lot of attention, as they should. But Harris promises to be good television as well. For starters, there’s the fact that Harris used to be one of the best cornerbacks in the game. The insight he offers his players from his own experiences will be fascinating to watch.
More than that, though, Harris is being tasked with coaching up a unit that’s seen a big makeover the last two years. Kelvin Joseph and Nahshon Wright are both rookies, and Trevon Diggs was a rookie last year. The work Harris does with these young cornerbacks should become a focal part of the overall storyline of Quinn trying to rebuild this defense after a dismal year, so placing the camera on Harris throughout training camp makes plenty of sense.
We discussed the Cowboys appearing on Hard Knocks this season in the latest video on the Blogging The Boys YouTube Channel. Make sure to subscribe to the channel (which you can do right here) so you don’t miss any of the videos that we put out!