MIAMI — Once upon a time, Kareem Huggins ran a 40-yard dash so fast you had to see it to believe.
And many have. A YouTube video of the Bucs running back recording a 4.28-second sprint in his quest to make the NFL out of Hofstra has had more than 19,000 views.
But his online popularity won't determine whether he sticks in the NFL. It will be performances like the one the second-year player turned in Saturday night against the Dolphins in the Bucs' preseason opener.
Though he played mostly against Miami's reserves in a 10-7 loss, Huggins was one of the game's stars, finishing with 55 yards on eight carries, including a game-high 35-yard run in the third quarter that was a highlight.
What intrigues the Bucs about Huggins, who is vying to be the third running back behind Cadillac Williams and Derrick Ward, is that he is different from the top two.
Williams and Ward are more physical, between-the-tackles runners. Huggins, who is listed as 5 feet 9, 198 pounds, adds a dimension with his ability to change direction and turn the corner with his speed.
How far can it take him?
"I don't want to get too far ahead, but he showed great promise," coach Raheem Morris said. "It's what we've been seeing on the practice squad and what we've been seeing throughout this training camp.
"I was glad to see it come to fruition (Saturday) for him, and I just hope it continues throughout the preseason and he gives us that extra dimension that we may need."
Said quarterback Josh Freeman: "(Huggins is) a little smaller package, but I think he brings more of a lightning aspect. He's quick. He can shake guys, and he gets to the hole really quick."
In the past, the third back has been Clifton Smith. But Smith's propensity for fumbling while playing the position makes it more likely he will be used in his primary role, return specialist.
Huggins also has a chance to help the team in another way, by catching passes out of the backfield. He caught a pair Saturday for 16 yards, one for a 14-yard gain.
Huggins, on the active roster for just four games last season and a participant in three, is neutral when asked what he thinks his position is on the team: someone who has a chance to make an impact or someone who is already making an impression.
"I learn from the older guys all the time," he said. "I'm just a young guy out there working."
As to whether he can still run that 4.28 40, Huggins is noncommittal.
"Well, that's when I was coming out of college (in 2009)," said Huggins, 24. "I don't know if I can run a 4.2 right now."
That's not what the Bucs need anyhow. They need more of what Huggins did on Saturday.
Stephen F. Holder can be reached at email@example.com.