SAN FRANCISCO -- There are no guarantees that the Emerald Bowl will be any different from the rest of the season for Amir Jenkins.
Victim of a torn meniscus in his right knee just before two-a-day practices were completed, the Navy wide receiver from Temple Hills, Md., has struggled to return to the field since September. As has been the case most weeks, Jenkins is the only question mark for tomorrow's finale.
It was not the way he wanted to spend his senior year, particularly not one in which the Midshipmen can equal the school record of 10 victories by beating New Mexico at SBC Park.
Coach Paul Johnson said Jenkins' availability is a "game-time decision," although Jenkins has been practicing since the team arrived in California. "I'm sure he's dying to play."
Johnson would probably prefer that his top pass catcher would be in the middle of the action rather than on the bench, where Jenkins has a tendency to dabble in coaching.
"I just try to help some of the others [players] get better," said Jenkins, a graduate of Sidwell Friends in Washington. "If I see certain coverages or tendencies of the cornerbacks, I pass them along. He [Johnson] kind of tells me to pipe down a little bit, although he uses a little stronger language than that. He tells me, 'Let me make the corrections first.' "
The injury and the uncertainty forced Jenkins to surrender his first-unit position to sophomore Jason Tomlinson, who leads the team with 16 catches.
But Navy sacrifices in another area because, when healthy, Jenkins is considered the best blocker among the wide-outs. In the spread option offense, blocking is their first responsibility, and at 208 pounds he has more heft than either starter. That could be important against a bulky Lobos defense.
Jenkins is more optimistic than his coach. "I'm pretty excited to be playing," he said. "I missed the last two games completely [both Navy blowouts], and I just want to get on the field and contribute any way I can. If a ball comes my way, so much the better."
Actually, he missed five complete games because of the problem and has played so sparingly in others that he has logged only two receptions. His best catch went for a 26-yard gain against Delaware and set up a Navy touchdown.
The Midshipmen overall have been fortunate with injuries. With the exception of Jenkins, none of the offensive players at the skill positions has missed time, and the defensive lineup stayed virtually intact all autumn.
"I just have to come to grips with the knee," Jenkins said. "A certain level [of pain] you have to play through for the game. It comes with the territory. I had surgery [just before classes started], but it was a little more serious than I first thought. I probably came back too soon at first. I thought I could do it in three weeks when I was supposed to sit out a minimum of four.
"But now it's been rested four weeks. That's a long time to go without the wear and tear."
Jenkins came to the academy because the staff -- then headed by Charlie Weatherbie -- was seriously considering a pass-oriented attack that featured the wide receivers. But Weatherbie was fired, and the Johnson regime installed the option offense that goes to the air primarily as an element of surprise.
So, his college football experience has been bittersweet, with the sweet sandwiched between two bitters.
"This has been pretty rough," he said. "I had high expectations, then the injury happened. Previously, I had been relatively injury-free. I hadn't missed a game at any level."
He will be dressing in No. 17. How much he plays is another matter.
"I don't want to be a detriment to the team," Jenkins said. "I sat out Army because I hoped for being better for this game. The team mentality comes first. So, since we went from no wins when I was a freshman to a chance for 10, that says a lot for us. I can't complain about getting a bad break."
Next for Navy
Matchup: Navy (9-2) vs. New Mexico (7-4) in Emerald Bowl
Site: SBC Park, San Francisco
When: Tomorrow, 4:30 p.m.
TV/Radio: ESPN2/WJFK (1300 AM), WNAV (1430 AM)
Line: New Mexico by 2 1/2
On the Web
Ask coach Paul Johnson a question about Navy football at www.baltimoresun.com/college/football