Williams' absence doesn't suggest team-first attitude

Cary Williams, here with the Ravens, was unapologetic about missing Eagles activities.
Cary Williams, here with the Ravens, was unapologetic about missing Eagles activities. (Associated Press)
Posted: June 02, 2013

If it was just his daughter's recital, or just his wedding, or even the recital and the wedding, you could excuse Cary Williams' absence from most of the voluntary workouts this offseason.

But the veteran cornerback not only scheduled his nuptials during the period reserved for spring practices, he had dental work and the building of a house - reasons he gave for missing workouts in April - planned prior to his signing with the Eagles in March.

After this week's three-day, mandatory minicamp, the players will have six weeks of freedom - or to have elective surgery - before training camp begins.

It should be emphasized that Williams did not skip anything he was obligated to attend. Organized team activities are optional. There have always been veterans who have blown off an OTA here or there, or, in a contract dispute, blown them off all together.

But Williams just signed a three-year, $17 million contract. And he is not in the class of former Eagles corner Asante Samuel, who often took a break from OTAs, or tackle Jason Peters, who missed the last two weeks tending to a personal matter.

But for every Williams or Samuel, there are 40 or so veterans slogging through drills with the rookies and the camp bodies just happy to be here.

And that's what the spring is for, especially for new coach Chip Kelly. He is installing dramatically new schemes on offense and defense. He is bringing an entirely new culture to the NovaCare Complex. He not only has to get longtime Eagles to buy in, he has to convince the veterans he brought in from other teams that his way will work.

So much was made of how the Eagles signed team-first free agents this offseason. Williams' actions suggest anything but.

It is safe to assume Kelly is not pleased. When a starter missed the first gathering of the spring to attend the funeral of a family friend, Kelly had the player's position coach call him to see if he could pay his respects before the service in order to make the afternoon meeting. The player declined.

Williams missed the first week of OTAs because of his wedding. He showed up at the beginning of last week, explained his absence - "Just because it was OTAs doesn't mean I need to derail my plans" - and then was a no-show Friday.

The Eagles called Williams for an explanation and he said that he was attending his daughter's recital, which was being held in another state. Peters, running back LeSean McCoy (personal reasons), and safety Kenny Phillips (birth of his first child) were also missing.

"You wish they would come, but you don't know their reason or their circumstance," wide receiver Jason Avant said Friday.

Avant spoke after he and safety Kurt Coleman fed each other balls through the passing machine for 45 minutes following practice. The eight-year veteran was asked why he opted to attend optional practices.

"First of all, it's a new coaching staff," Avant said. "You want to let everybody know that you are integral to the team winning."

Avant is not assured a roster spot, although it is expected he will survive. He has always been a jack of all trades and recently even took repetitions at slot cornerback. But he has additional value as a locker room leader and example-setter.

Undrafted rookie receiver Russell Shepard followed Avant around like a puppy during OTAs.

"That was just the first piece of advice we got," Shepard said. "Talking to Harold [Carmichael], who's a legend around here, he said, 'Man, find Jason. Find him and watch what he does and do everything he does.' "

Toward the end of last season, Avant questioned the commitment of some of his teammates. He said he wished Williams didn't miss time "because at some point, you're going to need that person and you want them to be able to know what to do and be accountable when the season starts."

But Avant did not question his dedication.

"If you sit down with Cary, he's definitely committed," Avant said. "Guys in the locker room know the guys that are committed to their craft, and Cary is definitely one of those guys."

Perhaps Williams won't be affected at all. He was running with the second team during Tuesday's open practice, but said "the cream will rise to the top."

Some take the easy road to the top.

Contact Jeff McLane at jmclane@phillynews.com. Follow on Twitter @Jeff_McLane.

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