MIAMI (AP) -Zach Thomas walked onto the practice field Wednesday with a whistle around his neck, the bill of his cap tugged down low and his tight shorts yanked up high, a list of plays tucked in the waistband.
``Now I'm coach Thomas,'' he said with a grin.
``It's nice to see Zach hasn't lost his sense of humor,'' teammate Jason Taylor said.
If any team could use a laugh, it's the Miami Dolphins. The downward spiral in their winless season accelerated with a blowout loss Sunday against the woeful New York Jets, and postgame grumbling suggested cracks in team unity, which would be understandable considering Miami's 0-12 record.
Thomas' coaching getup gave the Dolphins reason to grin. The seven-time Pro Bowl linebacker was placed on injured reserve Tuesday because of recurring migraines, ending his season, but he wants to do what he can to boost spirits.
``True colors come out when things are going bad,'' Thomas said. ``That's when you find out the character of guys.''
A splintered locker room would make the Dolphins even more susceptible to the NFL's first 0-16 finish. Four chances for victory remain, starting Sunday at frigid Buffalo.
Through 11 defeats, players remained remarkably upbeat, with none of the finger-pointing that can plague bad teams. But after a 40-13 loss to the Jets, nose tackle Keith Traylor accused unspecified teammates of selfishness, and defensive tackle Vonnie Holliday said the team's will and character were wavering.
Dissension?
``People can sense that, because it was a different game than the other games,'' Thomas said. ``It was an ugly game. Everything fell apart.
``But everybody is bouncing back. The leadership on this team does a great job with that.''
The leadership starts with in-laws Thomas and Taylor, the only players who have been Dolphins since the 1990s. But they're too candid to pretend everything is rosy.
Taylor, who was close to previous coach Nick Saban, recently said his relationship with first-year coach Cam Cameron was ``different.'' Follow-up comments Wednesday by Taylor regarding Cameron weren't exactly a ringing endorsement.
``It's not something that needs to be talked about right now,'' Taylor said. ``It's different than it was before, and that's fine. It's a new system. He has to establish himself and what he wants to get done. We're all trying to win games at the end of the day.''
There was every reason for the team's mood to be gloomy Wednesday, with Thomas ruled out for the year and seven other players missing practice. Those on the sideline included three newcomers to the injury report: linebackers Joey Porter (shoulder) and Channing Crowder (foot) and tackle Vernon Carey (back).
A season-long wave of injuries tests morale, Cameron said.
``It has its challenges,'' he said. ``But I've never been around a team that makes fewer excuses than this group. This group has been through a lot, but in no way are these guys making excuses.''
The post-practice atmosphere in the locker room didn't reflect the Dolphins' dire straits. There was friendly banter as Taylor and Holliday played dominoes at one table, and seven teammates played cards at another. Linebacker Donnie Spragan laughed at questions about the prevent defense - something the Dolphins have hardly needed - and Carey playfully discussed the appeal of Buffalo's winter weather.
No one was inclined to cite dissension as a problem.
``We're staying together,'' Carey said. ``Guys are still bonding. We're working hard. Everybody is still fighting every game, every play. We're just coming up short.''
With 12 consecutive losses, Taylor said, it would be natural for cracks in team unity to develop. But he said that hasn't happened.
``You see the camaraderie that goes on in the locker room - the dominoes, the friendly card games, the yukking it up,'' Taylor said. ``We're probably closer right now than we have been in a long time, just because of the adversity we're going through.
``You draw closer to the guys you know have your back. The fans aren't as receptive to you right now. The media are doing their jobs and going to be harsh. All you really have is your family at home, and your family here. I think we're closer here through 0-12 than we have been in a long time.''

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