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Ogden • Along with the normal spring football tasks of evaluating players and developing depth, the Weber State Wildcats have an additional task this spring — getting acquainted with new coach John L. Smith, his system and his expectations.

Smith, hired following the retirement of Ron McBride, will use the spring to implement his offense and defensive packages.

Yet, that's not all.

"The biggest thing is us getting to know our players and vice versa," said Smith, named WSU coach Dec. 6 after having been an assistant at Arkansas the past three seasons.

"It takes time," Smith continued. "How do we get our kids in the best position? We're learning what we can and cannot do."

Weber State, which opened spring practice earlier this month before pausing for spring break, resumed workouts Tuesday and will get in 15 practices before the annual spring game on April 14 at Stewart Stadium.

The Wildcats lost 13 seniors from last season's 6-5 team that finished third in the Big Sky Conference. But eight all-conference performers return, including senior quarterback Mike Hoke, who will miss spring workouts after having shoulder surgery.

Weber State will also be without fullback Tevia Tolutau, punter Josh Kealamakia and center Tyson Tiatia, who have left school to serve missions for the LDS Church.

The loss of Hoke concerns Smith the most. Surgery was a success and the Wildcats do not want to take a chance of setting back Hoke's rehab, who has been taking "mental reps."

"We'd rather have a healthy Hoke in the fall," Smith said. "This spring is crucial. The shoulder feels the best its felt in a long time."

Smith, 63, is 132-86 as a head coach at Idaho, Utah State, Louisville and Michigan State.

He's looking to capture his seventh conference championship.

Second team all-conference running back Josh Booker and guard Tytan Timoteo return, as do receiver Shaydon Kehano and tight end Brian Jankowski, who were Honorable Mention selections.

Defensive end Trevor Pletcher, linebacker Anthony Morales and safety Tony Epperson were all-league performers as well.

"Our kids are responding," Smith said. "They have a willingness to work. We're not doing everything right, but the willingness is there.

"And it's not like the cupboard is bare. But we do have to continue to improve."

Twitter: @tribmarty —

Wildcats spring primer

• Weber State finished 5-6 in 2011, 5-3 in the Big Sky conference.

• A new era has begun with the arrival of new coach John L. Smith.

• Weber State returns eight all-conference performers for 2012.

• Starting quarterback Mike Hoke will miss spring practice following shoulder surgery.