The season premiere of Hard Knocks put much of its focus on the stars. Episode 2 shifted the lens to the type of story this series has always told so well: The quest of the underdog.
Consider Azur Kamara, the undersized defensive end who was just a boy when his family fled the Ivory Coast as it was being torn apart by civil war. He was a refugee in New Guinea before his family settled in Arizona, attending a school where everyone spoke a language he didn't know. Football became Kamara's lifeline -- it gave him his footing and eventually allowed him to attend the University of Kansas on a scholarship. Now he's in camp with the Dallas Cowboys. He's already made it in a lot of ways -- but he wants more.
Kamara spent the 2020 season on the Cowboys practice squad, and Dallas' preseason matchup against the Cardinals is a golden opportunity for the 22-year-old to separate himself from others on the roster bubble. The location of the game also means his mother will get to watch him play professional football for the first time. More on that in a bit.
Aden Durde knows about life as an underdog. The Cowboys' defensive line coach played years of football in Europe and kicked around a couple NFL practice squads before turning his focus to the sideline. A native of England, Durde speaks with a pronounced accent that makes him stand out in the, well, very American world of the National Football League.
"I look at him and he looks like he's from Arkansas," said Cowboys owner Jerry Jones in his sole Episode 2 cameo. "I listen to him and he sounds like Winston Churchill."
Cowboys players have their share of good-natured fun with Durde, and you have to credit him for being a good sport about it all. At one point, we see a reporter ask Durde if he'd seen Ted Lasso, the hit Jason Sudeikis comedy about an American college football coach unexpectedly recruited to guide an English Premier League team.
No, he hasn't seen the show, and sorry, your question is not original.
Durde is working on the sideline when Kamara gets his big chance in the final minutes against the Cardinals. He has a game-sealing strip sack wiped away by a false start. Frustration. Minutes later, he has another potential sack denied by a clear holding penalty that goes uncalled. Another crusher. The Cowboys lose the game on a late field goal and Kamara goes to bed knowing how tantalizingly close he came to delivering the type of impact performance that can earn him serious consideration for the final 53.
A rough night, to be sure, but don't count Kamara out just yet. He's been blasting through obstacles all his life.
Extra points …
- Durde does more than coach. He has also played an important role in the International Player Pathway Program, a league initiative that seeks to develop non-American football talent and grow the number of foreign-born players in the NFL. The IPPP has some real success stories, including Bills defensive end Efe Obada and Eagles offensive tackle Jordan Mailata. You can do all the bad English-accent bits you want, Tarell Basham, but put some respect on that man's name!
- “Gooch” was trending on Twitter on Tuesday night. This might be Zeke Elliott's greatest career achievement.
- Speaking of greatest career achievements: I had a blink-and-you'll-miss-it cameo on Tuesday's episode and it set my world on fire. I've been writing about Hard Knocks for almost 10 years. I cannot explain to you how much it messed with my head to hear my voice and see my dumb face on one of my favorite shows ever.
My buds Marc Sessler and Colleen Wolfe also got that good shine here. Poor Gregg Rosenthal picked the wrong week to go on vacation.
- Quote Of The Week goes to Demarcus Lawrence: "Hey, if he ain't got a little piss comin' down his leg, you ain't threatening him hard enough."
Seconds earlier, we watched Lawrence frolic in the California surf with his beautiful family. We contain multitudes.
- One unforeseen consequence of Dak Prescott's shoulder injury is an unnecessary uptick of Ben DiNucci football in my life. That said, it was fun watching the backup QB lay waste to Micah Parsons on the rookie linebacker's own fancy pants chess board. If DiNucci's football swag matched his chess swag, the Cowboys would be stashing Dak on IR right now.
- Nobody wants to get left hanging … especially on premium cable.
- Only two additions to the Hard Knocks Spotify playlist this week. If I could add La'el Collins' improvised ditty about Dak Prescott, trust me, I would. My name is Dakota / I wanted to go to LSU / Ended up going to Mississippi State / Won a game one year out of six.
'Til next week.
Dan Hanzus hosts the award-winning Around The NFL Podcast and has been NFL.com's Hard Knocks beat writer since 2012. You can check out his complete recap archive right here.