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Patrick Reusse: Finding top talent at defensive end: priceless

The Vikings have waited a long time for a first-rate defensive end. Carl Eller and Jim Marshall were the Minnesota Vikings' starting defensive ends for the full season for the last time in 1977. Eller had 15 sacks. A year later, he was replaced i...

The Vikings have waited a long time for a first-rate defensive end.

Carl Eller and Jim Marshall were the Minnesota Vikings' starting defensive ends for the full season for the last time in 1977. Eller had 15 sacks. A year later, he was replaced in the lineup by Mark Mullaney, and then was traded to Seattle in 1979.

What we have here then are 30 seasons -- 1978 through 2007 -- when the Vikings employed only one tremendous defensive end: Chris Doleman.

He was a force at end for seven seasons (1987-93). He had 12½ sacks in 1993, but Dennis Green sent him packing to Atlanta for a second-round draft choice.

Green was never able to find an equivalent to Doleman over his next eight seasons, even though he used back-to-back first rounders in that search: Derrick Alexander in 1995 and Duane Clemons in 1996.

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John Randle was listed as a starting defensive end for 44 games from 1998 through 2000, but he would be inside -- where he belonged -- the majority of the time.

In this decade, the combinations that made the most starts at defensive end have been: 2001 - Stalin Colinet and Talance Sawyer; 2002 - Kenny Mixon and Lance Johnstone; 2003 - Kevin Williams (out of position) and Mixon; 2004 - Mixon and Kenechi Udeze; 2005 - Darrion Scott and Erasmus James; 2006 - Scott and Udeze; 2007 - Ray Edwards and Udeze.

You can't look at this list, and you can't look at the Vikings' dearth of defensive ends since the heyday of Eller and Marshall, and then contend that the Vikings gave too much and paid too much for Jared Allen, the NFL's best pass-rushing end.

The money shouldn't rattle us, since it belongs to owner Zygi Wilf and the entire Wilf family, and the ransom shouldn't rattle us, since the Vikings have used so much of both in the frustrating search for a difference-maker at defensive end.

Go back to 1975, when the Vikings took Mullaney with the idea that he could become the next star at the position, and they have used 10 of their 32 first-round selections on defensive ends.

And only Doleman was worth special attention in an opponent's game plan.

That changed Wednesday, when Allen officially became a member of the Vikings.

Allen said the Vikings were appealing for many reasons (presumably, $31 million guaranteed was among them), and special mention of the Williams lads -- Kevin and Pat -- the Vikings' defensive tackle.

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"The two defensive tackles ... I think the biggest problem we'll have is who is going to hit the quarterback first," Allen said.

That might be the greatest quote we've had around here since the Purple People Eaters -- Eller, Marshall, Alan Page and friends -- worked under the slogan, "We meet at the quarterback."

PATRICK REUSSE is a sports columnist for the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

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