Gophers football coach Jerry Kill believes the talent in the 2015 recruiting class is improved over 2014. One of the reasons is the signing of defensive end Colton Beebe, who twice won the Bobby Bell Award as the outstanding small-class lineman or linebacker in Kansas City. He is the son of Tom Beebe, an offensive lineman Kill coached at Pittsburg (Kan.) State in his first college head coaching job.

"Tom Beebe was a great player at Pittsburg State, one of the best offensive linemen that ever played there," Kill said. "Tom was probably 6-2, played at 300, could move, a pulling guard. That's why Colton, he's 6-3 and about 250 now, but he'll be 6-3, 280."

Kill told another story about recruiting Dior Johnson, a four-star defensive back (according to Rivals.com) out of Michigan.

"I left his house in Detroit and I didn't know what he was going to do," Kill recalled. "So I got on the [charter] plane and I'm driving down the runway in the plane and I get a call and he commits to us, so I tell the pilot, 'Slow down!' There's a lot of good stories in the recruiting class and a bunch of needs in the recruiting class.

"Each year I feel like we're getting a little bit better, and I think we've proved that. We have a lot of speed in this class. We got a walk-on deep snapper that is one of the top five in the country. Then we also got a [walk-on] punter, Jacob Herbers. Trey Hansen is the snapper, from Cedar Falls, Iowa."

Fills holes

Kill said the most important aspect of the 24 players in this recruiting class is that they will fill a number of big holes at key positions in years to come.

"We needed secondary. We got a great secondary next year, but a lot of them guys are going to graduate," Kill said. "We brought in a lot of secondary players, and that will help us down the road. We brought in four corners, three safeties, and that's what we needed.

"We needed offensive linemen because of some of the guys we're graduating this year and next year. The offensive line class is the best offensive line class we've had overall. So those were our big, big needs, the secondary and offensive line.

"Then we picked up two more wide receivers that are big, and with the redshirt wide receivers we have, we're going to be able to take the top off coverage next year. We can just take the ball and throw it up and let someone go get it. We feel good about that."

Asked if any of the recruits would have a better opportunity of starting as a freshman, Kill named a few players who had a chance to go to other marquee programs.

"It's hard to tell until I get them here in the summer and see how mature they are and those kinds of things, it's hard to say. It's hard to say because we have good players coming back," he said.

But Kill did speculate on some key recruits.

"I would say that Quinn Oseland, the offensive lineman from Springfield, Illinois, had a chance to go to Illinois, Oklahoma State, a couple other colleges, and he's going to be a great player," Kill said. "Johnson, the defensive back from Michigan. [Defensive back] Ray Buford was a guy that was recruited heavily. A lot of them were."

Were there any surprise recruits?

"The guy that is probably the surprise recruit in the whole deal is a quarterback we got [Demry Croft from Rockford, Ill.]," Kill said. "He played great in the [Offense-Defense All-American Game in Orlando] and I think he's going to be special. He's very, very athletic. The other kid that not a lot of people know about is Jonathan Femi-Cole, the running back from Canada. He is a big, good-looking guy. Again, he's from Canada, and not a lot of people [recruit into] Canada."

Replacing key stars

Can the Gophers replace a running back such as David Cobb?

"We signed three running backs, we have five of them here on campus," Kill said. "Jeff Jones is ready to go. Berkley Edwards, Rodrick Williams, the guy that a lot of people don't talk about is Rodney Smith, who is a kid from Georgia that we recruited last year and tore up the fall camp. We've added three great running backs in this class. We are running back deep."

What about replacing some of the key players that left in the secondary, and tight end Maxx Williams?

"We have all those guys back with Antonio Johnson, and then we probably got three guys that you have Eric Murray, you have Briean Boddy-Calhoun, then the best one at the end of the day may be Damarius Travis. He has had a great, great season and those four guys are great secondary players. We have some guys behind them, good corners behind them. I'm not even talking about Jaylen Myrick and Craig James. It's our job, some of them you never replace, but it's our job to replace.

"We recruited a tight end. We have a lot of tight ends. We recruited another one since Maxx left, but our receivers, we're going to be loaded at receiver for the first time. We're going to have [tall] receivers — we'll go 6-4, 6-3, 6-2, K.J. [Maye] is 5-11 — then the guys we're bringing in are 6-5 and 6-6. We have some big receivers. Big receivers that will help us."

Does Kill believe this is the best recruiting class he's had at Minnesota?

"I think each year our recruiting class gets better, and we get better," Kill said. "I think we proved that last year. We had eight freshman that played, and then we redshirted some very dynamic players. The class was good, and I think there are a lot of kids in here we'd like to redshirt, but there's probably some in here that are going to play [as freshmen] for us."

Jottings

•Fullback Jerome Felton officially opted out of the final year of his Vikings contract Tuesday to become an unrestricted free agent. Linebacker Chad Greenway might return if he agrees to take a big pay cut. Running back Matt Asiata is a restricted free agent, and the cheapest tender that can be offered is about $1.5 million. Asiata made $570,000 the past season. Defensive lineman Tom Johnson made $850,000 last year on a one-year contract and he had a good year. Then you have running back Adrian Peterson, who certainly isn't likely to be paid the $12.75 million base salary in his current contract for 2015.

Lane Kiffin, who played high school football at Bloomington Jefferson and has been a college head coach at Tennessee and Southern California, will be back at Alabama as the offensive coordinator for a second year after doing a great job. Kiffin was paid $680,000 last season.

•Going into Wednesday's Timberwolves game with Miami, Andrew Wiggins has scored 20 or more points 16 times this season. Until he was held to six points Wednesday, he had scored in double digits in 22 consecutive games, shooting 47 percent over that stretch. The Timberwolves' rookie record for most consecutive double-digit scoring games is 31 by Kevin Garnett from February 19 to April 17, 1996.

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on 830-AM at 7:40, 8:40 and 9:20 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. shartman@startribune.com