Eagles training camp stock watch: Wendell Smallwood up, cornerbacks down

Eagles training camp stock watch: Wendell Smallwood up, cornerbacks down

As training camp wears on and the preseason opener draws nearer, CSNPhilly's Derrick Gunn takes stock of which Eagles are trending upward and which Eagles are trending downward.

Trending up

RB Wendell Smallwood
With LeGarrette Blount missing most of the week due to personal reasons (he told us it was family related), Smallwood took advantage of Blount's absence. In full-contact drills, Smallwood ran with authority — hitting holes, breaking tackles and running away from pursuers. He was especially impressive in the goal-line scrimmage. Smallwood is performing the way an RB who is unsure of his status on the team should — like his roster spot depends on every carry he gets. While the second-year player has the advantage on rookies right now, Smallwood is smart enough to know he cannot have any setbacks with guys like Donnel Pumphrey and Corey Clement hot on his trail.

LB Nathan Gerry
Going into training camp, the question was could the rookie make the transition from safety to linebacker? So far, the answer is yes. Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said this of Gerry: "He has responded to every challenge put in front of him. When we had some of those live-contact practices is when he's showed up the most. You expect him to be good in coverage, but he's played very tough and physical. He's been assignment sound."

DT Tim Jernigan 
If Jernigan continues to play the way he has up to this point, he will make people forget about Bennie Logan in a hurry. Mentally tough and technically sound is the best way to describe Jernigan right now. When it's late in practice and the temperature is hovering around 90 degrees and you're rushing the passer, it has to come from somewhere other than physical strength. It becomes more mental to push yourself through. So far, Jernigan has shown his mental makeup equals his physical attributes.

S Corey Graham
How much does the 32-year-old Graham, who was recently signed, have left in the tank? Schwartz, who was with Graham one year in Buffalo, calls him a multidimensional DB. The Eagles will initially insert the 10-year veteran at safety, but he can also player corner and nickel. At 6-foot, 196 pounds, Graham has the ability to match up with WRs and TEs. Coaches referred to him as reliable. That's not a word we've heard coaches use when talking about some of the other secondary personnel. 

Trending down

Are the Eagles' starting CBs on the roster right now? Last week, Patrick Robinson told me he's only a quarter of where he wants to be. That's not what you want to hear from a guy who's projected to be counted on heavily. Jalen Mills, C.J. Smith, Aaron Grymes have youth on their side, but you can understand why coaches might be a little nervous. None of them have found that measure of consistency yet. Schwartz says he needs consistency from the whole group and he's very interested to see how the CB competition unfolds. He's looking for playmakers. 

WR Shelton Gibson
Sunday during an open practice session at Lincoln Financial Field, Gibson made a couple of tough leaping catches that drew applause from the crowd and some welcomed encouragement from his teammates. He can use every positive he can get because it has been an up-and-down camp for Gibson. His numerous dropped passes in practices are not going to help his cause. There are only so many WRs this team can keep and, if Gibson doesn't find his groove, he's only helping the decision makers make their choices easier.

Carson Wentz feels 5-1 Eagles 'just wired different this year'

Carson Wentz feels 5-1 Eagles 'just wired different this year'

There's something special going on around here, and Carson Wentz isn't afraid to say it.

“We’re made different this year," Wentz said after practice Thursday. "We have a different character make-up in that locker room, and nobody’s going to ever settle for anything less than greatness. So we’re going to go out there every day and attack it.”

The Eagles, 5-1, go for their fifth straight win Monday night against the Redskins, who they beat on opening day at FedEx Field.

Wentz, in only his second season, has elbowed his way into the NFL MVP conversation. His emergence as the unquestioned leader of this team has mirrored the team's emergence as one of the NFL's elite teams.

Wentz spoke Thursday about how he sensed something different, something special, as far back as spring workouts.

“You could just see it, even going back to OTAs," he said. "You could see the competitive nature, even in practice. You couldn’t wear pads. You couldn’t even press cover outside. You could just see the competitive nature.

"And then through training camp, it just kept getting elevated even more. You could just see it from the leadership on down. We’re just wired different this year.”

When Wentz tells his teammates to strive for greatness, they listen, because here's a kid who in just 22 career games has established himself as one of the NFL's best young quarterbacks. He has 13 touchdowns and just three interceptions this year and has posted a passer rating of 90 or higher in five of six games.

“It’s something that we always strive for," Wentz said. "And really, in everything we do in life, you strive for greatness.

"When we’re sitting where we’re at right now, we can just never let that slip. We can never let that slip from our preparation in the film room, the meeting room, the weight room, in practice, so that’s just something I feel like we have to always keep focusing on.

"Never settle, never settle, and just keep striving for that greatness.”

Wentz said he didn't feel anything lacking last year, when the Eagles went 7-9 and missed the playoffs for a third straight year.

It's just that head coach Doug Pederson is in Year 2, coordinators Frank Reich and Jim Schwartz are in Year 2 and Wentz is in Year 2.

The whole program is in Year 2 and there's a confidence, an attitude, a swagger that was nowhere to be found last year or really the last few years.

“I think it was just a natural growth," Wentz said. "You go back and look at last season again. We were so close in so many of those ballgames but [it's] just the natural growth that’s taken place both from coach and just really all of us being in this together and having a year under our belt."

Ronald Darby gets cheers from fellow DBs in 1st practice since injury

Ronald Darby gets cheers from fellow DBs in 1st practice since injury

There was a little more buzz around the Eagles' defensive backs at practice on Thursday. 

All eyes were on No. 41. 

For the first time since he left the season opener in Washington following a gruesome right ankle dislocation, cornerback Ronald Darby practiced on Thursday. He was limited and it seems rather unlikely he'll be able to play on Monday night, but it was still a boost for his teammates to see him back out on the field. 

"We were all just joking and letting him know the spotlight was on him," safety Rodney McLeod said. 

Doug Pederson said the "stars have to align" for Darby to play on Monday night against Washington (see story). So it seems unlikely. Still, it was a good sign to get him back to practice.

Darby was with the team from the start of Thursday's practice and went through the entire warmup and stretching period. He wore high black socks and didn't appear to have any sort of brace on his injured right ankle. 

When the Eagles broke into the individual portion of practice, Darby went through all of the backpedal drills; he was the last to go through each. 

So how did he look? 

"He looked good," corner Jalen Mills said. "The guy had some clean breaks. We did a couple deep-ball drills, you know, he jumped up and high-pointed the ball. A lot of DBs, we got excited when we saw him, cheering him on. He looked good."

Mills was maybe a little overly excited about how good Darby looked on Thursday. It was, after all, just his first day back. 

Defensive back Jaylen Watkins said Darby looked "better" but acknowledged it's "going to take time." Watkins pointed out Darby's recovery is largely about being able to trust his ankle and getting back into a groove. 

"He didn't do much but I think this is his first time being back with us in that capacity," safety Malcolm Jenkins said. "I think he looked decent. I don't really know what to compare it to. Hopefully he feels good. I'm just concerned with him not having any kind of setbacks. I think he looked fine." 

What all of his defensive back teammates agreed on was that it was pretty crazy to see Darby practicing just seven weeks after he was carted off the field in Washington. At the time of the gruesome injury, it looked to be pretty obvious that Darby's season was over. 

When the play happened, Mills was on the other side of the field so he didn't see how bad the injury looked until after the game. He credited the training staff and Darby's dedication for getting him back on the field so soon. 

"In that moment, what you feel, for him to even be back out there at all, to have a possibility to get him back, is great," Jenkins said. "Because I think at first glance, everybody probably thought he was done for the season. Obviously, whenever he is 100 percent, he's going to instantly make our defense better."