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'Hard Knocks' Episode 4 recap: Preseason success not enough for Cowboys underdogs

Hard Knocks hit a major obstacle this week.

In May, NFL owners approved a new structure to roster cutdowns, enacting a system that included three waves of releases occurring on the Tuesday after each preseason game. The initial 90-man roster cut to 85 on Aug. 17, to 80 on Aug. 24, then 53 on Aug. 31.

That change in structure and timing meant the last cutdowns would no longer take place on the traditional Saturday after the fourth preseason game (cuts are four days earlier with just three preseason games now on the schedule). This is a problem for Hard Knocks, which -- even with its famous ability to tinker and edit mere hours ahead of an episode's premiere -- had no chance to turn around a final-cuts episode for its customary Tuesday air date.

And so it was with heavy hearts that we watched guard Isaac Alarcon and running back JaQuan Hardy -- the central underdog protagonists this season -- get major Hard Knocks screen time on the very day we learned they were officially cut by the Cowboys. The edit of the preseason finale against the Jaguars made it seem like both men might have done enough to earn a spot on the final 53-man roster, but alas, it was not meant to be.

All's not lost. Hardy will reportedly snag one of Dallas' practice-squad spots if he clears waivers on Wednesday. Alarcon, the pride of Monterrey, Mexico, will automatically land on the practice squad as an exemption under the NFL International Player Pathway program.

The news was even better for defensive end Azur Kamara, the other Hard Knocks long-shot subject. The Ivory Coast native made the initial 53-man roster, though his job security will remain in flux as teams across the league sort through the open market to finalize their Week 1 rosters.

In the future, perhaps Hard Knocks can push back the air date of their fourth episode by a day or so. Or we can all just get the hell off Twitter and let NFL Films tell the story as only they can. That seems like a much more fulfilling version of life.

Extra points …

  • As I do every year, it's time to call special attention to Liev Schreiber, who continues to do G.O.A.T.-level work as the Hard Knocks narrator. He's so good at this job I almost get a little mad watching him do a mattress commercial. Let's just keep him in a Kirk Cousins plexiglass cube so no one else can have him. My favorite line of Episode 4: "It's a bad week to have an off day." Gravitas for days!
  • Am I the only one who was a little disturbed by just how terrible Leighton Vander Esch was at Connect 4? Dude was getting wiped out after the third move! It usually takes me about five moves to vanquish my son. He's 4.
  • Damn, Amari Cooper put Trevon Diggs in a bodybag on premium cable. Diggs made the fateful decision to talk trash to the star receiver, who responded by lighting the cornerback up unmercifully in a practice session. After it was through, Cooper actually felt bad for Diggs, a man with a young family previously documented on Hard Knocks. "Man, Dak got me riled up," Cooper lamented after the bloodbath. "I apologize, 27."
  • Speaking of Dak, Cowboys fans had to love watching this episode, which featured Prescott cutting loose in practice with no restrictions. The shoulder injury suffered early in camp once felt like a legitimate concern, but Prescott certainly looks like a QB1 who'll be ready to roll at full strength come Sept. 9 in Tampa Bay.
  • I would buy Prescott's Pylon Game. I would also volunteer to testify in the ensuing lawsuit over the intellectual property rights to said game. "Well you see, Your Honor, the structure of the game was in place for weeks at camp, but no individual could definitively claim credit for its creation."
  • I just want to know where Mike McCarthy was going after that team meeting. Elks Lodge? Bowling awards banquet? Darts tournament? Wherever hoss went, a Mojo Moment surely followed.
  • Four additions to the Hard Knocks Spotify playlist this week. Really enjoyed the practice montage set to one of Olivia Rodrigo's 15 hit singles this year.

One more episode! 'Til Tuesday.

Dan Hanzus hosts the award-winning Around The NFL Podcast and has been's Hard Knocks beat writer since 2012. You can check out his complete recap archive right here.

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