Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
The close of NFL training camps provides an opportunity to revisit NFC West camp previews. The previews set criteria by which each team's training camp would qualify as a "downer" or a "success" -- although the criteria wasn't necessarily exclusive. I'll republish the criteria and follow it with a verdict, continuing with a look at the Rams.
Camp will be a downer if ... top draft choices Jason Smith and James Laurinaitis aren't ready to contribute right away. Coach Steve Spagnuolo has taken it slowly with both rookies, but he likely will not have that luxury once the regular season gets going. Smith and Laurinaitis probably must play and play well for the Rams to avoid trouble. Laurinaitis' development is critical because the Rams appear so thin at linebacker after releasing Tinoisamoa. Even if Laurinaitis plays well, the Rams' depth at linebacker could betray them.
Camp will be a success if ... quarterback Marc Bulger finds comfort behind an upgraded offensive line. Bulger can be a highly accurate passer when opposing defensive linemen aren't pounding the confidence out of him. The player who topped 4,300 yards passing with 24 touchdowns and eight interceptions three years ago hasn't resembled even remotely the scared soul seen under center for the Rams too often over the last two seasons. The Rams' should start to regain some swagger on the line with 320-pounder Jason Brown taking over at center and the personably intense Smith at tackle. Right guard Richie Incognito won't be the only starter with some snarl, in other words. That should help provide improved protection for Bulger and leadership for the offense.
The verdict: Camp had to qualify as a downer by this criteria even though Laurinaitis moved into the lineup rather quickly. Smith worked with the backups through camp while facing a difficult transition on two fronts. First, Smith had to deal with moving from left tackle in college to right tackle in the NFL. Second, Smith had to relearn fundamentals after playing in a two-point stance at Baylor. The Rams could use high-level production right away and that isn't realistic given the learning curve Smith faces.
Bulger's efforts to reestablish his career took a detour when the quarterback suffered a non-displaced fracture to the pinky finger on his throwing hand, missing two weeks. Bulger threw 21 passes off to the side during practice Sunday. Whether or not Bulger returns at a high level, the injury prevented him from getting comfortable behind that upgraded line.