But when he did, in the middle of the final question posed to him, Wilks made it clear that Johnson would be the foundation of his offense.
“As a defensive coordinator, there’s nothing more demoralizing to a team than being able to run the ball,” Wilks said. “I mean, you’re talking about taking the air out of an individual, so that’s going to be our premise.
“When you look at some of the premier running backs in the National Football League, we have one right here in (David) Johnson.”
Johnson is coming off a fractured wrist that he suffered in Week 1 and kept him out for the rest of the year. In his last full season of action, 2016, he led the NFL in yards from scrimmage, as former coach Bruce Arians utilized Johnson’s receiving ability to complement his ball-carrying skills -- and to keep him from getting hit often, even though it didn’t prevent him from getting hurt in Week 17 of 2016 and Week 1 of 2017.
Without Johnson as their primary rushing option, the Cardinals’ run game struggled in 2017.
They were 30th in total rushing yards, 31st in yards per rush and 28th in rushing touchdowns. With Johnson in 2016, the Cardinals ranked 18th in rushing yards, 12th in yards per rush and third in rushing touchdowns.
But Wilks’ philosophy differs greatly from Arians’.
While Arians understood the benefit of a strong run game, he used the run more to set up the pass. Arians built his resume and reputation on his vertical passing attack.
Wilks understands that, as well.
“You’ve got to run the football and I think you’ve got to have balance off that,” Wilks said. “It opens up the passing game for you. It opens up play-action, so we’re going to run the football.”
The Cardinals didn’t run the ball more than 452 times under Arians, and twice had less than 400 carries as a team. And in five years, the Cardinals threw 869 more times than they ran, the 11th highest difference in the league over that span, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
As a league, 21,976 more passes were thrown than runs over the last five seasons.
“Someone mentioned a pass-happy league, which I agree it is,” Wilks said. “But, I still believe this: You have to have a foundation of running the football.
“You have to run the football in the National Football League.”