Cary Williams needed to look at a sconce. Some people looked at that askance. Williams wanted to see his daughter dance. Some people think that makes him a dunce.

Williams missed a few OTAs. Some people said, "OMG."

"I'm sorry people make such a big deal out of something so small," Williams said after participating in the Eagles' first mandatory practice of the week. "There's life outside of football. I'm just trying to balance between work and free time. Do people really want me doing all that during the season?"

That may come off as tone deaf to fans who expect their highly paid athletes to be singularly devoted to their jobs and their teams. It could be described as Iversonian, except Allen delivered his "practice" sermon after already proving himself an elite player here. Williams is brand new to Philadelphia.

So who is right? The answer, as usual, can be found somewhere in the vast gray area between the two extremes.

The days when a player was expected to run through a wall for his coach have been collectively bargained away. The wall can only be balsa wood, and the player can only be asked to run through it 16 times per calendar year.

The NFL's arcane new work rules didn't write themselves. They were part of the league's trade-off when it locked players out and took millions of dollars in future earnings away from them. So maybe it's understandable when a player doesn't volunteer more of his time than required in his contract - which, incidentally, can be voided by the team at any time.

Ask the players whose pay the Eagles slashed last year if they're glad they went to every voluntary workout.

But what Williams should understand - and it would help him more than anyone if he did - is the situation he is walking into. Eagles fans just endured two years of watching mercenaries go through the motions. In a city that prizes heart and effort above even talent, that was especially excruciating.

So Williams probably shouldn't have mentioned the need to pick out sconces for the house he is building in Tennessee. He did a lot better when explaining his decision to miss an afternoon at Chip Kelly's Dance-a-teria in order to attend his 3-year-old daughter's dance recital in Nashville.

"I grew up as a kid that didn't have two parents in the household," Williams said. "I take pride in being a father, in being a husband. I take pride in being there for my daughter because I didn't have that. . . . If I was a guy that had three different kids with three different women and I was a womanizer, you would be reporting that. Now I'm a guy that wanted to go see his daughter's recital and I'm a bad guy."

He's absolutely right about that. But the truest thing he said was this:

"When those bullets start flying, that's when you start to see what kind of person you've got there on the field anyway. . . . I understand what it takes to be great in the regular season."

It helps that Williams plans to be on the field Wednesday while his former Baltimore Ravens teammates meet President Obama. He said it never occurred to him to miss a mandatory camp day, despite the "once in a lifetime" chance to visit the White House as a champion.

Whether it crossed his mind or not, Williams' answer to that question was perfect. Maybe he is getting the hang of this thing.

Williams was signed to help replace Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, the two starting cornerbacks from last year's 4-12 toxic-waste dump of a team. Asomugha skipped some of the voluntary OTA workouts last spring, too. He also cited personal reasons. If he had performed at his former Pro Bowl level during the season, no one would have cared or remembered.

And that is true of Williams this year. If he plays like the cornerback who helped the Ravens win the Super Bowl, nobody will mention his OTA absences again.

If he plays like Asomugha, however, he will be hearing about dance recitals and sconces until the day he leaves town. Of course, if he plays like Asomugha, he won't have to hear about them for long.

Contact Phil Sheridan at psheridan@phillynews.com. Follow @Sheridanscribe on Twitter.