Kill Ready for Long Rebuilding Process

The 2010 season was one of turmoil, losing and change. It's up to new head coach Jerry Kill to get the program back on its feet, which won't be easy considering how far the Gophers fell last season.

Kill was hired in December to turn around a team that finished 3-9 and had problems in every area of the game. After winning its opener over Middle Tennessee, Minnesota lost nine in a row, several by lopsided margins.

Coach Tim Brewster was fired in midseason and replaced on an interim basis by offensive coordinator Jeff Horton. The Gophers salvaged some pride by upsetting Illinois and Iowa in the final two games, but it's going to take Kill some time to get the team headed in the right direction.

Replacing record-setting quarterback Adam Weber and shoring up a porous defense will be Kill's two biggest issues going into spring ball.

Kill had three successful seasons at Northern Illinois, leading the Huskies to a Mid-American Conference West Division title and two bowl appearances. Although he has a 127-73 career record that includes eight seasons at Southern Illinois, his hiring wasn't well-received by some Minnesota fans, who wanted a coach with a higher profile.

Minnesota starts next season with a visit to Southern California. The Gophers play Nebraska, Wisconsin, Iowa and Michigan State in conference games. The one piece of good news is Ohio State and Penn State aren't on the schedule.

TOP OF THE CLASS

OL Tommy Olson (Mahtomedi High, Mahtomedi, Minn.) -- A three-star recruit according to Rivals.com, he played guard in high school. Olson, who gave a verbal commitment to Minnesota two years ago, should compete for a starting job as a freshman. His father, Ed, is a former Gophers captain and center, while his brother, Eddie, plays on Minnesota's offensive line.

QB Max Shortell (Bishop Miege High School, Shawnee Mission, Kan.) -- Confidence certainly isn't an issue for Shortell, who chose the Gophers over Michigan. He says he plans on challenging MarQueis Gray for the starting job. At 6-foot-6 and 225 pounds, Shortell is rated as a three-star recruit by Scout.

WR Ge'Shun Harris (Arizona Western College, Yuma, Ariz.) -- Recruited for an area where the Gophers need help immediately, Harris could step in and play right away. The fact he has the experience of playing two years at a junior college will help his chances.

NOTES, QUOTES

--New head coach Jerry Kill will rely on coaches he has worked with for years to fill the two most important positions on his staff. Tracy Claeys will be the defensive coordinator, while Matt Limegrover will be the offensive coordinator. Both worked for Kill at Southern Illinois and Northern Illinois. The Huskies defense ranked 16th in the country, allowing 19.08 points per game last season. Limegrover directed Northern Illinois' balanced offense that was led by quarterback Chandler Harnish and running back Chad Spann.

--Two members of last season's coaching staff will return. Thomas Hammock will be the running backs coach, while Dan O'Brien will continue as the Gophers' director of football operations, a position has he filled the last three seasons. Hammock was co-offensive coordinator/running backs coach last season. Jeff Horton, who took over as interim coach when Tim Brewster was fired, will not return.

SPRING SNAPSHOT

PRACTICE PRIORITIES: New head coach Jerry Kill has a big job on his hands. He'll eventually have to dramatically upgrade the Gophers' talent, but since that can't be done in one recruiting season, he has a more immediate task at hand. He needs to make his returning players believe in themselves after Minnesota finished 3-9 last season.

The players dealt with a lot, including losing nine straight games and the firing of coach Tim Brewster in midseason. It helped that two of the wins came in the final two games over Illinois and Iowa. As far as on-the-field matters are concerned, Kill must plug holes on a defense that was pushed all over the field last season.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "The big thing we have to do is, over the next two or three months, we have to teach (our players) what we want. It isn't going to happen in one meeting. It's going to take several meetings and several sessions, some tough times and some good times. Hopefully as we get through and finish up before we get to May, they have a good idea of what we expect and how we're going to do things." -- Coach Jerry Kill.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

KEY LOSSES:

QB Adam Weber -- It didn't show up in wins, but Weber was one of the most productive quarterbacks in Gophers history. In what was a lost season on many levels, he completed 55.7 percent of his passes for 2,679 yards for 20 touchdowns. MarQeuis Gray will be the starter if the new coaching staff sticks with the plan to move him from wide receiver.

S Kyle Theret -- The Gophers will miss his aggressiveness and ability to hit hard. Theret always had a nose for the ball. Christyn Lewis is in line to move into the starter's role.

RT Jeff Wills -- He was an anchor on the line for the last two seasons. Brooks Michel, a redshirt sophomore in 2011, was second on last season's depth chart.

PLAYERS TO WATCH IN 2011:

QB MarQeuis Gray -- It's pretty simple. He needs to have the ball in his hands as often as possible. The best position to do that would be quarterback. Gray took some snaps after Jeff Horton replaced Tim Brewster as interim coach with the idea the experience would help the transition. New head coach Jerry Kill plans on using Gray at quarterback. Gray's running ability will make him a threat to make a big play at anytime. His throwing skills are in question, but he could succeed in a system that emphasizes rollouts and a short passing game.

CB/KR Troy Stoudermire -- It would be an understatement to say he had an interesting season. He was expected to be one of the team's best receivers, but he announced early in the season he was leaving school. Stoudermire had a change of heart and asked to come back. He was then moved to cornerback and quickly made the adjustment to defense. Stoudermire also became a dangerous kick returner.

LB Gary Tinsley -- He'll be counted on again to be a leader in 2011 after an outstanding junior season. Tinsley led the team with 90 tackles. He also showed the ability to get into the backfield and make plays down the field.

WR Da'Jon McKnight -- He was the Gophers' top threat in his junior season, and that should be the case again when he's a senior. McKnight caught 48 passes for 750 yards, an average of 15.6 yards per catch. He also caught 10 touchdown passes to lead the team.

PLAYER NOTES

--S Kim Royston thought his career was over after missing all of last season with a broken leg, but the NCAA granted him a sixth year of eligibility. He broke both bones in his left leg in spring ball, and the injury didn't heal enough for him to get back on the field. Royston's leadership and experience will be a bonus for the 2011 season.

--TB Donnell Kirkwood had hamstring and calf injuries, and he will get a redshirt year. He played in four games and gained 107 yards on 27 carries. Kirkwood will have four years of eligibility remaining.

--PK Chris Hawthorne, a transfer from North Carolina State, will have a chance to win the kicking duties in spring and fall camp. He saw action as a freshman walk-on for the Wolfpack in 2010, but since he wasn't on scholarship, he won't have to sit out a season.

--WR Bryant Allen, who caught 16 passes last season, has transferred to Illinois State.


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