Jerry Kill prepares for first full offseason with Minn.

Kill and his staff have already begun offseason measures.

Adam Richard

The Gophers put their season to bed against Illinois last week with a 27-7 victory.  The win was one of only three in the first year of the Jerry Kill era. 

Minnesota can now look ahead to the 2012 season.  Kill has had a full year in Minnesota and will be able to control the recruiting and offseason training for the first time going into next year.

Some of the GophersâÄô issues have been corrected, but problems still exist.

 For one, Kill has expressed concern throughout the year about the state of the teamâÄôs academic standing.  

Kill said Minnesota was hovering close to falling below the required Academic Progress Rate guidelines. Kill and his staff enforced a check-in policy this season for the players to wake up and check-in with a team official before going to class. 

The Gophers honored 24 seniors graduating from the team Saturday and will have to replace a large percentage of them.  Quarterback MarQueis Gray played his first full season at the position and will be back, but most of his offensive weapons will depart, including starting running back Duane Bennett, wide receiver DaâÄôJon McKnight and both tight ends âÄî Eric Lair and Collin McGarry.

âÄúIâÄôm still going to be the leader and help those new guys coming in,âÄù Gray said.

The position battles have already begun as Kill and his staff had the team back in the training room Monday following the end of the season for lifting, running and conditioning.  McKnight said he believes that the wide receiving corps will be able to step up in his absence. 

âÄúMost of them played this year, Devin [Crawford-Tufts], BG [Brandon Green], GeâÄôShaun [Harris]. TheyâÄôre going to be fine,âÄù McKnight said.  âÄúTheyâÄôll be comfortable with the system and play fast.âÄù

The offensive line is one position on the field that has some depth to look forward to next season. Eleven different offensive linemen played this season and Minnesota has two big recruits committed in Jonah Pirsig and Isaac Hayes.

âÄúThe offensive line has got a lot of young kids and theyâÄôre going to get bigger and stronger,âÄù Kill said.  

MinnesotaâÄôs defense was showing signs of life in the latter half of the season, but it will also be hit hard with departures.  Starting defensive tackles Brandon Kirksey and Anthony Jacobs and five defensive backs graduate this year.  The Gophers will have to depend on a lot of younger players to take over. 

âÄúTheyâÄôll grow up fast.  You get not only spring ball and another fall camp, so theyâÄôll get two good doses of it before we start again,âÄù defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys said.

RaâÄôShede Hageman is one of the leading candidates to take over a defensive tackle position.  He was recruited heavily out of high school as a tight end, but converted to the defensive line.  He recorded two sacks in the final game against Illinois.

âÄúHeâÄôs a big man and a hard guy to handle in there,âÄù Kill said.

One defensive senior the Gophers hope to return is Troy Stoudermire, who missed most of the season with a broken arm. He would have to file for a medical hardship waiver and be granted another year of eligibility by the NCAA.

âÄúIâÄôm very excited to get a chance to come back and play football,âÄù Stoudermire said. âÄúI havenâÄôt heard anything.  Hopefully itâÄôs good news.âÄù

Recruiting will be the next step for Kill and his staff to supplement the current Gophers roster. 

âÄúNot being in a bowl game, can we do more recruiting?âÄù Kill asked rhetorically. âÄúYou bet. YouâÄôve got more time to watch film.âÄù  He added, âÄúIâÄôll be on the road as soon as I can get out on the road.âÄù

Conditioning for the current roster will begin swiftly, according to Kill. After the win against Illinois, Kill was not shy about what needed to be done for Minnesota to compete at a higher level next season. 

âÄúWeâÄôre going to go back to work on Monday. We know we arenâÄôt strong enough or fast enough yet,âÄù Kill said. âÄúWeâÄôre not going to take a lot of time off.  Our offseason will be much different than it was a year ago.  It will be much tougher and much different.âÄù