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Dan Campbell's tough preparation transforms Dolphins into tougher team

"He's not just out there saying, 'Oh, this sounds good, let's do the Oklahoma drill.' Or, 'This sounds good, make them to a one-on-one drill,'" one Dolphins player said of coach Dan Campbell. "No, that translates to the game and he knows that." AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee

MIAMI GARDENS Fla. -- Miami Dolphins guard Dallas Thomas remembered what interim head coach Dan Campbell told him in practice.

Everything you do, Campbell said, make sure you finish in winning position.

Campbell sent that stern message to Thomas and the offensive line last week. He wanted the much-maligned group to dominate the team's talented defensive line, led by Pro Bowlers Ndamukong Suh and Cameron Wake. That made for some intense practices, according to players.

Both sides of the ball carried that intensity into Sunday's 44-26 victory over the Houston Texans. The Dolphins dominated early and jumped out to a 41-0 lead by halftime. Led by Lamar Miller, Miami averaged a whopping 7.1 yards per carry while rushing for 248 yards. The defense limited the Texans to 2.8 yards per carry.

The Dolphins' speed and physicality were at their highest points of the season.

"We go so hard against each other at practice, by the time we get to game day, opponents don't know what hit them," safety Michael Thomas said. "It's not the same intensity playing in games. It's not the same look that our practice-squad guys, our scout-team guys are giving us. We have some great guys that's on our practice squad and do scout team for us that's giving us great looks and making us better."

The Dolphins improved to 2-0 under Campbell. Since taking over three weeks ago, Campbell has run Oklahoma drills in practice and full-contact one-on-one drills, and there have been times when the starting offense goes against the starting defense, running their own schemes.

Campbell gave alternate black jerseys to the offense Thursday for winning Wednesday's full-padded practice. The jerseys served as a reminder for the defense that it lost, building more competitive fire.

Campbell, who played for a decade under coaches such as Bill Parcells and Sean Payton, is a firm believer that tough practices make for easier games. That approach is paying off thus far.

"It isn't any gimmicks," Thomas said. "He's not just out there saying, 'Oh, this sounds good, let's do the Oklahoma drill.' Or, 'This sounds good, make them to a one-on-one drill.' No, that translates to the game and he knows that. He was a player and that's all he knew. That's what prepared him for game days when he prepared, and now it's doing the same thing for us. The game is simple. It's football."

How physical are Dolphins practices? Matt Moore broke his nose during the week and has a black eye -- and he's the backup quarterback. In the locker room after Sunday's game, I asked Moore what happened.

"I got an elbow to the face this week," he said with a proud smile.

That highly competitive spirit can be seen on the field the past two games. This is the most talented roster the Dolphins have had in several years. But former coach Joe Philbin didn't know what to do with it.

By taking a clear, physical approach and winning players over, Campbell has a good pulse on the team after just three weeks. Miami reached .500 for the first time since Week 2 and has something of a fresh start with 10 games remaining.

A true measuring-stick game takes place Thursday, after a short week, against the New England Patriots (6-0). After pounding a pair of struggling AFC South teams, a win over the defending Super Bowl champions would be a huge statement for Miami (3-3) entering the midpoint of the season.

"I feel like that's not even the tip of what we can do," running back Damien Williams said. "I feel there's a lot more coming."