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It's a 'Hard Knocks' life for Cowboys

OXNARD, Calif. -- NFL Films senior producer Rob Gehring has a valuable little black book he carries around training camp.

In it are the blueprints for what he hopes will become cable television gold. Tonight at 9 p.m. HBO’s Hard Knocks: Training Camp with the Dallas Cowboys premieres in the first of a five-part series.

This year’s show has potential to be the best of the four previous, which included the Cowboys in 2002. Excited about the series, HBO Sports President Ross Greenburg came to Oxnard on Monday and believes the star power content featuring Terrell Owens, Tony Romo and Pacman Jones will make it special.

“There is a lot more on the line with this one,” Greenburg said. “This is the pre-eminent franchise that everyone has picked for a Super Bowl.”

Here are 10 things you need to know about Hard Knocks:

1. What are the crews capturing?

There are 4-6 players wearing wireless microphones every practice and by the end of this series Terrell Owens will have had his turn 7-10 times (more than any player). Wade Phillips is also wired, and there are six robotic cameras being used, hoping to catch more natural interaction. Two are in Phillips’ office and one each are in the offices of Jerry Jones, offensive coordinator Jason Garrett and defensive coordinator Brian Stewart.

2. No Jessica

If viewers are tuning in wanting to see the Jessica Simpson-Tony Romo soap opera, they are going to be disappointed. The producers say they don’t have any footage of Jessica, because she has not been at the Residence Inn complex where the team is staying.

Despite teasing the show by saying the cameras would chase the story lines when the deal was struck with the Cowboys, Greenburg sounds much different now.

“She hasn’t shown up and we’re not out there as E! Television Network looking for her.”

3. Terry Glenn saga

One of the better story lines expected to be used, Greenburg revealed, is the release of veteran receiver Terry Glenn, ending his saga and likely his career in Dallas. The cameras followed Jerry Jones during the final steps; Greenburg referred to this as “emotional” footage.

4. Family affair

Several of the players have their families staying with them and watching practices in Oxnard. This always makes for a good story line. But the cameras haven’t been intrusive outside the complex, and they rarely leave to follow their every move. Maybe the crew shot Wade Phillips going to Walgreen’s for some Scope as he did one night at midnight, Kevin Burnett with his family, or even Jason Witten running routes with his young son C.J. on the field.

5. TV time for T.O.

T.O. wants an acting career in the future and he knows how to create some drama. There is some playing to the cameras, but the crews have caught some good footage of him doing a lot of teaching on the side, especially with buddy Sam Hurd and the rest of the young receivers. Expect to see all those times he goes to the sideline and banters with the fans.

6. All aboard

Jerry Jones just keeps handing NFL Films story lines and good segments. One of the best expects to be capturing the Cowboys traveling to San Diego on a five-hour Amtrak train ride Friday from Oxnard for the preseason opener on Saturday. This will be available for the second episode. The cutoff for footage for each week’s show is Sunday.

“He has come up with so many angles for us,” Greenburg said of Jones.

7. Don’t bother me

Not every player is comfortable with a camera crew of three following their every move. Some (i.e. Terrell Owens) relish the attention and some run from it. Don’t expect a lot of behind-the-scenes of Pro Bowl running back Marion Barber. The budding, yet camera-shy star prefers to be left alone ... sorry fans, don’t expect to see the other side of the Barbarian. But guess what you might see? Linebacker Anthony Spencer, his passion for Sudoku, and his position coach Reggie Herring as the master motivator.

8. Will you get to know Todd Lowber?

The history of Hard Knocks includes following a rookie and the roller coaster of trying to make the team. Lowber, a wide receiver, is the 80th player on the roster. The 26-year-old took Terry Glenn’s spot following his release and is from Ramapo College (N.J.). Lowber is highlighted on the photo board of all the Cowboys in the production trailer. Another angle could be Texas Tech-ex Danny Amendola and his rise as a hopeful on his home-state team.

“Always pay attention to the never-ending story of the rookie and the veteran trying to make this football team,” Greenburg said. “At the core of 'Hard Knocks', that is a driving piece of drama that never ends.”

9. Cameras are everywhere

Not only are there four camera crews on the field, robotic ones are in place in the meeting rooms and coaches offices. There are signs posted all over the Residence Inn complex reading “Video Surveillance,” giving the feel that someone is listening to conversations or videotaping everywhere.

10. What does this operation take to pull off?

Try two 30-foot mobile trailers stationed in the Residence Inn parking lot. One for production, one for the cameras and equipment. The crews arrived with 60 chests full of equipment and have been working from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. each day. There are 25 production crew members in Oxnard. They convert the video and make two shipments a day, sending 25 tapes back to the NFL Films headquarters in Mount Laurel, N.J., to be edited.