Keeping the job

When defensive coordinator Greg Lupfer decided to move star linebacker Joey King to strong safety this spring, incumbent starter Steve Shinen wasn’t rattled. He’d been battling for playing time and the right to start ever since he arrived at Portland State four years ago, so this year’s competition with King was nothing new to the native of Westminster, Calif.

“Last year it was Byron Woods,” said Shinen, who has started the past two seasons despite heavy competition. “It’s just another obstacle to overcome.”

The obstacle this year is King, a 5-foot-10, 205-pound senior linebacker that Lupfer wanted to protect by moving him to strong safety. King is an extremely fast, tough player who is stronger and quicker than Shinen. King was second on the team last year with 63 tackles and had a sack and an interception.

“Joey’s a real great player,” Shinen said. “Real great.”

Even so, Shinen has some advantages over King. While Shinen’s 6-foot-4 frame only supports about 215 pounds, he is a cerebral player both on the field and in the planning room. Shinen was 10th on the team last season in tackles with 35 and had a sack and two interceptions.

“He makes plays with his mind,” Lupfer said, “and he keeps me on my toes sometimes.”

Shinen attributes his smart play to his high school days, when he played deep safety and wide receiver. Knowing both sides of the ball has helped him immensely to understand the game and predict what offenses are trying to do at any given time. When Lupfer plans out defenses, it is often Shinen who will question certain plays if he is unsure of what his role is or if he sees holes.

“When you’re a coach, you can’t think through every situation,” Shinen said. “If I know where everyone is supposed to be, then I know where I can take chances.”

That knowledge helped Shinen this spring as he and King competed for the starting strong safety spot. His goal was to make it a tough decision for Lupfer next fall. The level of competition impressed Lupfer, who admitted he had a hard decision ahead of him. “I didn’t think the competition between Joey and Steve would be so good,” Lupfer admitted.

Whoever starts, Shinen is concerned primarily with winning football games and ending his five-year career at Portland State on a high note. Noting that the team has always started the season well, he expressed the need for consistency, especially on the road.

“We need to have the mentality on the road of we must win,” he said. Three of the Vikings’ four losses in 2004 came on the road, including a 20-21 collapse at NAU on October 23.

Shinen also sees the holes that are wide open on the defensive line, but he is confident that players will step up and fill in, saying that it is “their time.”

“Next year we’re going to have a great offense,” he added. “Sawyer Smith is going to be a great quarterback.”

Confident that they have the talent and depth to take things to the next level in 2005, Shinen said that whoever starts, there will be plenty of plays for everyone. But he still believes he should be the one penciled in as the starting strong safety next year.

“I think I did beat Joey out,” Shinen said. Sounds like a smart answer.