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Bills rookie linebacker Vosean Joseph looks to make impact on special teams

It was an easy play to notice, even deep into the fourth quarter of a first preseason game when attention begins to wane as few recognizable names occupy the field.

Vosean Joseph's teammates on the Buffalo Bills' sideline were among those paying attention. They also took care of the sound effects that might have been lacking because of the many empty seats at New Era Field by that point.

"He had the one big hit that kind of 'ooh'd, ahh'd' the sideline, at least," coach Sean McDermott said of the crushing blow Joseph delivered to fellow rookie Ashton Dulin on a kickoff return with a little more than nine minutes left in the Bills' 24-16 victory against the Indianapolis Colts on Thursday night.

The 6-foot-1, 215-pound Dulin fielded the kick five yards deep in the end zone. When he reached the 24-yard line, the 6-1, 230-pound Joseph was there to put him on the ground. Hard.

"(Dulin) had a full head of steam and he was looking one way, and I just told myself, 'I'm going to try to go get him if one of my teammates don't,'" Joseph said.

That's the sort of thing the former University of Florida standout realizes he must do as a fifth-round draft pick looking to stick on the roster as a reserve linebacker.

"That's the main, important thing for all of us right now as rookies, just trying to make special teams," Joseph said. "That's our No. 1 goal right now. We're not really focused on defense, because we already have our set starters. For us as rookies, special teams are our No. 1 priority.

"Every day we meet with (special teams coordinator) Coach Heath (Farwell) and (assistant special teams) Coach (Matt) Smiley every day, just trying to get the schemes, trying to get the plays down and just go out there and try to play fast."

Five things about Bills fifth-round pick Vosean Joseph

Even that might not be enough.

For instance, in the next breath after taking note of the sideline reaction to the hit, McDermott pointed out that Joseph "looked like a rookie at times."

"I think where we go from preseason (game) one to preseason two, and even the days leading up to preseason two, that would be a critical shot for Vosean and, really, for our whole football team to trust their technique and double down on their fundamentals," the coach said.

The Bills will be in Spartanburg, S.C., Tuesday and Wednesday to practice with the Carolina Panthers in advance of their preseason game Friday night in Charlotte.

Those are opportunities for Joseph to demonstrate to McDermott, defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier and linebackers coach Bob Babich that he's making the necessary strides to gain more of their trust.

Joseph mainly concentrates on improving his techniques.

"Like if we're in a certain type of coverage, I've got to turn a certain type of way and I've got to flip my hips a certain type of way," he said. "Or, I've got to be able to look at this one gap and still be able to play this other gap. Stuff like that. It's just about (understanding it until) it becomes second nature."

Joseph readily admitted that even during what so far is the defining moment of his rookie career, he made mistakes.

"I didn't do all my techniques so well, because I was supposed to keep going downfield," he said. "But I had seen the returner loop fast to the right side, so I was like, 'I'm going to get over the top and then try to make a play.' And that's what happened."

For Joseph, even the errors can be overcome, provided he can show that he has learned from them. He also must continue to display the qualities that caused the Bills to notice him in the first place when he played for the Gators. He was Florida's leading tackle last season with 93, including nine for loss, and finished his career with 161 tackles.

"He's a quick player to react in terms of what we call 'pull the trigger' in terms of how he keys and diagnoses things and finds the ball," McDermott said. "That's what stood out probably the most in Florida."

Joseph believes his path to securing a roster spot must be created through a solid work ethic.

"You've just got to come out here every day and work your tail off," he said. "It doesn't matter what you're doing, it doesn't matter what aspect it is — kickoff, kick return, defense. I've just got to make sure I'm giving my all out there and, hopefully, that will give me a chance to make the team."

Not all of his time is spent on special teams. During training camp practices, Joseph worked at both the strong and weak-side linebacker spots. The Bills need depth at the position, so showing that he can be a competent fill-in is vital.

Joseph's established teammates are helping with the most challenging part of transitioning into the NFL: understanding what to do and how do it. The most important lesson the 21-year-old rookie feels he's learning is "becoming a pro." One of the most impactful teachers in that area is middle linebacker Tremaine Edmunds, even though he's only entering his second season and is the same age as Joseph.

"Tre' has just been telling us, 'You've got to stay in your playbook, you've got to get a routine,' because it was hard for him last year to try to come up with a routine," Joseph said. "But know he's got his routine, so it makes a lot of stuff easier for him. And the way he studies films and be able to study playbooks and all that stuff, I'm taking all that knowledge."

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