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Vikings could again pursue athletic defensive linemen

MINNEAPOLIS -- We've talked before about how the Minnesota Vikings are on an annual search for pass rushers, even as their roster remains well-stocked with players who can get to the quarterback. Their time working with defensive lineman Malik McDowell at Michigan State's pro day on Wednesday suggests they're again spending their time looking into the kinds of athletic specimens that have paid dividends for them so far in the Mike Zimmer era.

McDowell's profile -- 6-foot-6 and 295 pounds, with 34 3/4-inch arms and 10 1/2-inch hands -- fits squarely with the archetype of lanky, powerful rushers that the Vikings have amassed, and concerns about his technique and consistency at defensive tackle are two of the reasons he might slip to the point where he's available when the Vikings make their first selection at No. 48 overall next month. Setting aside the team's habit of collecting dynamic athletes like Everson Griffen, Danielle Hunter and Stephen Weatherly, there are some reasons why a player like McDowell could make sense for them early in the draft.

The Vikings have an uncertain future at three-technique tackle, where Sharrif Floyd is trying to work back from what Zimmer called a "thing in his leg" during a radio interview on Tuesday. Datone Jones could get work there, but he's also on a one-year deal, and 32-year-old Tom Johnson is in the final year of his contract.

And while the Vikings figure to return with the formidable trio of Griffen, Hunter and Brian Robison leading their group at defensive end, they've got decisions looming there, too. Robison, who turns 34 next month, will be a free agent after the season. Griffen and Hunter both have deals that expire after the 2018 season, the same year nose tackle Linval Joseph is set to become a free agent. It's not outlandish to place defensive line fairly high on a list of the Vikings' draft needs.

Zimmer plans to be at Ohio State's pro day on Thursday and Michigan's on Friday, and a prospect like the Wolverines' Chris Worley could catch his attention. Villanova's Tanoh Kpassagnon could fit the Vikings' profile as well; at 6-foot-7, with 35 5/8 inch arms and a double major in accounting and finance, he's the kind of lanky, intelligent lineman the Vikings found last year when they plucked Weatherly in the seventh round.

Since Zimmer became the head coach in 2014, the Vikings' approach to defensive linemen in particular has led them to players who might be undervalued by other teams. They've tended to focus on what a player does well, more so than the unrefined areas of his game, trusting defensive line coach Andre Patterson to mold young players into productive members of the line. The approach has paid impressive dividends with Griffen, Hunter and Joseph especially, and Jones listed Patterson as one of the factors that drew him to Minnesota.

The potential upside for an already-dynamic defensive line, and the need to fortify the position for the future, could have the Vikings looking for more additions to their defensive front next month.