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Starkey: The Steelers' mystery speed merchant

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Utah kick returner Reggie Dunn (14) heads down the field for a touchdown against Colorado in the fourth quarter of Utah's 42-35 victory in a game in Boulder, Colo., on Friday, Nov. 23, 2012. Dunn extended his NCAA record with his fifth career 100-yard kickoff return, and his fourth this season.

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Saturday, June 1, 2013, 11:42 p.m.
 

Football in shorts means nothing. I get that. Forty-yard dash times in shorts mean even less.

But when a man negotiates those 40 yards in 4.22 seconds, he will raise eyebrows — especially when his resume already shows he had more 100-yard kickoff-return touchdowns (five) than anyone who played major college football.

So yes, Utah's Reggie Dunn is a player to track as the Steelers wind toward training camp. Just don't blink.

Can he do anything but return kicks?

No idea. He mentioned he saw time as a gunner in college and knows how to tackle. But that was after he mentioned 4.22, so I'm not even sure I heard it right.

Will his kick-return prowess translate at this level?

Again, sorry … but 4.22.

Will the Steelers make room for a one-trick pony, if indeed Dunn is that?

Not sure (4.22).

That ridiculous number, by the way, is Chris Johnson-fast and would have made Dunn the fastest wideout at the NFL Combine, if only he'd been invited. I wondered if it was one of those “agent” runs they talk about, or perhaps wind-aided.

Dunn directed me to YouTube, and sure enough, it's there, for all to see, at Utah's pro day. And even if 4.22 isn't his norm, anything below 4.3 is pretty sick.

“The official times they brought to the scouts and turned into the NFL were 4.22 and 4.26,” Dunn explained. “Actually, the coaches here the other day had me at 4.29.”

Still, Dunn knows it wasn't so much the 40-yard dash as a series of 100-yard dashes that got him his NFL shot. Over his final five collegiate games, he had four 100-yard-plus TD returns, including two against Cal, which might explain his Twitter handle: @ReggieDunn100.

The last time he touched an NCAA-inscribed football, Dunn sprinted the length of the field with it. Colorado had just returned a fourth-quarter kickoff for a touchdown and was still celebrating when Reggie went one-and-Dunn a final time, scoring the winning points in a 42-35 victory.

“I hadn't touched the ball the whole game,” he said. “For some reason, they kicked it to me.”

It is a bit puzzling that Dunn wasn't more involved in Utah's offense. He had just 25 combined runs and catches his senior year. He didn't even return punts, prompting speculation that he couldn't catch them.

“I wasn't able to (return punts) at Utah for different reasons,” he said, cryptically. “But if you come out here and watch me, you can obviously see I can catch the ball.”

If Dunn fails, it won't be for a lack of reverence for the franchise that signed him as an undrafted free agent. He says he grew up a Steelers fan in Compton, Calif., because his father, Reggie Dunn Sr., is a friend of former Steelers star Louis Lipps. The two hail from the same area of New Orleans.

“I can remember when Plaxico Burress was a rookie, when Tommy Maddox was here, when Kordell Stewart was here,” Dunn said. “All those guys — Jerome Bettis, Willie Parker. It's crazy that I'm on the same field and in the same facility.

“When I got that call from Coach Tomlin saying, ‘We want you to return kicks for us. Come to camp and show us what you can do,' I wasn't going to turn that down.”

A solid 5-foot-10, 178 pounds, Dunn is no giant. But he doesn't deserve the ever-present “diminutive” title, either.

“When I got here, Coach Tomlin said, ‘I thought you were smaller,' ” Dunn said. “I was like, ‘Looks can be deceiving.' ”

So can 40 times. But at the very least, you have to be intrigued.

The Steelers sure are.

Joe Starkey co-hosts a show 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays on 93.7 FM. His columns appear Thursdays and Sundays. Reach him at jraystarkey@gmail.com.

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