'I ain't scared': Dak Prescott's return, Dallas Cowboys teammates' challenge highlight 'Hard Knocks' episode

Jori Epstein

Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott is back in action, rookie linebacker Micah Parsons’ mom can cook up a storm, and DeMarcus Lawrence is reminding dozens of NFL hopefuls that their opportunity awaits - even if on a different team after roster reduction from 80 to 53.

HBO released its fourth episode of "Hard Knocks: The Dallas Cowboys" on Tuesday night, further capturing rookies fighting for their contracts, Prescott ditching his pitch count and Jerry Jones explaining the intricacies of his fast-food habits.

Prescott resumed full participation in team drills after four weeks resting and rehabilitating a latissimus strain in his throwing shoulder.

“Oh, I’m back,” Prescott declares. “I ain’t scared. I put a little touch on that one, it worked out. ... Be smooth, run fast, get in and out.

“I’m telling you: I’m playing quick mentally and throwing that pitch.”

Here are USA TODAY Sports’ top five takeaways from the latest episode:

1. Amari Cooper-Trevon Diggs showdown

Prescott doesn’t just bring the heat on his throws as he finds tight end Blake Jarwin roughly 25 yards down the sideline in his return to the competitive period of practice. He also energizes teammates, stoking a competition between top cornerback Trevon Diggs and receiver Amari Cooper in a practice just before Prescott himself reintegrates.

“I bet he won’t catch the ball on me,” Diggs says as Prescott goads the pair. “He’s not gonna catch a ball, period.”

Cooper cackles: “You got young Diggs riled up. Diggs mad as hell.”

Prescott celebrates when Cooper beats his fellow Alabama product to haul in a deep ball. “That’s a whatever-the-hell-I-need-to-do-right-there release,” Prescott tells Cooper.

“It was really a perfect ball,” Cooper says. “Man, Dak got me riled up. I don’t usually talk to people like that. I apologize 2-7 (Diggs’ number). That was all Dak, man.”

2. Words of wisdom

Second-year undrafted free agent Rico Dowdle had convinced the Cowboys to name him their third running back. Then, what began as tightness in his hip, hamstring and groin was diagnosed as a hip fracture. Dowdle was placed on season-ending injured reserve. The Cowboys remain in the market for RB3.

Running backs coach Skip Peete emphasizes that opportunity to undrafted rookie JaQuan Hardy during this week’s episode.

“Do you really understand the circumstances right now? No, turn around and look at me for real,” Peete says in a position meeting. “What I’m trying to explain to you is we saw a guy go down, so we’ve got to get someone to fill that role. This guy was a very important piece of the role in the offense. You have an opportunity to grasp something of a lifetime. But you’ve got to showcase it. It ain’t just going to be given to you. You’ve got to prove you deserve to be there.

“Grab this opportunity and don’t ever let it go.”

3. Bring your own juice

Peete isn’t the only position coach whose cameo will stick with “Hard Knocks” viewers. Defensive line coach Aden Durde returns with purpose in Episode 4 as does secondary coach Joe Whitt, who called plays when defensive coordinator Dan Quinn was quarantined under COVID-19 protocol.

Durde lectured players after a hot Texas practice in which they complained about being sore.

“To be the best, it’s the days like this we have to take over,” Durde told defensive linemen before they left the practice fields. “We can be average if that’s what you really want. [But] there’s going to be a time when I stop [expletive] holding your hand. Because we have to play. Do you understand? It can’t come from me.

“Because if it keeps coming from me, we won’t be good enough.”

Whitt preached similarly.

“You can’t get the juice from us,” he told defenders. “We ain’t on the [expletive] field with you. You got to bring that juice because the standard is here. We’re going to win a [expletive] championship because of you men. So let’s not be teetering.”

Linebacker Leighton Vander Esch gave Whitt a fist pound afterward.

“Good meeting this morning,” Vander Esch said. “I loved it.”

4. Worldly Micah Parsons

Perhaps something Vander Esch loved less: Losing to rookie counterpart Parsons in Connect Four. The two faced off while at a cookout featuring Parson’s mother Sherese grilling meat to serve alongside heaping pans of macaroni and cheese, plates of cornbread and more. Parsons brought a Connect Four board to Oxnard, California, for the early weeks of training camp. The chess and bowling lover is a restless competitor.

“You got to think about your moves, my moves,” Parsons tells Vander Esch after one of the rounds in which rookie duped vet. “You’re just not addicted to winning, bro.”

Parsons also comments on the preseason game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, considering more than just Trevor Lawrence or their talented linebacking corps.

“The most lethal animal is the jaguar,” Parsons says. “I was watching ‘Animal Planet’ one night and they eat alligators. They swim, too.

“You can’t get away from a jag.”

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Dak Prescott was back throwing as the Cowboys prepare for their Sept. 9 season opener against the Buccaneers.

5. Jerry Jones’ Whataburger habits

Could “Hard Knocks” really wrap an episode without a peek behind the Cowboys owner’s curtain? Jones was not salting his McGriddle on this week’s episode, as was featured Week 1. But he was touting Texas fast food legend Whataburger, which it sounds like he eats nearly daily.

“About how many trips a week do you make it to Whataburger for me?” Jones asks an apparent colleague.

“Oh, at least five times,” the man responds.

The Cowboys owner says he “lives and breathes” the burger joint.

“I like Whataburger untouched,” Jones says. “I don’t care if it’s been sitting there for an hour and a half... I don’t warm it up. I like the original flavor when it’s coming out the sides.”

Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Jori Epstein on Twitter @JoriEpstein.

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