Bolts Notebook: Changes, Challenges

Who'll be the next head coach in San Diego? Which player should the Chargers target in free agency? And, oh yeah, what about this week's game in Pittsburgh? Here's a run-down in this week's Bolts Notebook.

Turner, Smith Reportedly Out

U-T San Diego reports the Chargers will fire Norv Turner and A.J. Smith at season's end. The team reportedly plans to replace Smith in-house with the duo of Jimmy Raye (director of player personnel) and John Spanos (director of college scouting). The promotion of the owner's son will not go over well with an already irate fan base, so the team needs a coach who will inspire some confidence in the fading franchise.

Big-name candidates are Jon Gruden, Andy Reid, Mike Holmgren and Bill Cowher. However, a candidate who makes even more sense is Russ Grimm, currently the assistant head coach in Arizona. Grimm's greatest strength -- coaching the offensive line -- coincides with San Diego's biggest weakness. He also brings discipline, accountability and a winning disposition.

It would be ideal if Grimm could convince defensive coordinator John Pagano to stick around. If not, a candidate who makes a lot of sense is is Raheem Morris, the former head coach of the Buccaneers who is now coaching defensive backs in Washington. Morris could rebuild a secondary that is tattered and in transition. He could also add some energy and urgency to a unit in need of both.

Early Scouting

Chargers fans are already looking for ways to improve the team's personnel for next year, researching free agent offensive linemen (Ryan Clady, Branden Albert) and cornerbacks (Tracy Porter, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie) with fervor. But the free agent who makes the most sense doesn't even play a position of obvious need.

San Diego needs to make a run at Ramses Barden, the fourth-year receiver of the New York Giants. Robert Meachem and Eddie Royal have been busts and the team needs another reliable target to team with Malcom Floyd and Vincent Brown (and Danario Alexander if the Chargers re-sign him).

Barden is a big, physical receiver who runs great routes and fights for the ball. He is not Vincent Jackson, but given an expanded role, he can come pretty darn close. In Barden's lone start this season, he caught nine passes for 138 yards.

Looking to Steel One

With all the focus on front-office changes, it is sometimes difficult to remember there are still five games to be played before all attention shifts to 2013. That starts Sunday in Pittsburgh, where the Chargers are 0-14 in the regular season. All eyes will be on Philip Rivers as he squares off against Ben Roethlisberger, the man who was drafted seven spots after Rivers in 2004 yet already has two more Super Bowl rings. Roethlisberger will start this week after missing the last three games with rib and shoulder injuries.

Rivers may have his own injury concerns by game's end. The Chargers will likely be without LT Mike Harris (ankle), RT Jeromey Clary (knee) and LG Tyronne Green (hamstring). Recent practice squad call-up Kevin Haslam will likely start at left tackle while veterans Reggie Wells and Rex Hadnot figure to start at right tackle and left guard, respectively. The Chargers are still holding out hope Harris can play, in which case Haslam would get the nod at right tackle. Regardless, this is a bad situation against a Steelers defense that ranks No. 1 in total defense and passing defense.

On the other side of the ball, the key for San Diego's defense will be getting off the field on third down. San Diego ranks No. 27 in third-down defense (42.2 percent) while Pittsburgh ranks No. 3 in third-down efficiency (44.8 percent). The defense will have to get it done without Antwan Barnes, who was placed on injured-reserve this week with a hamstring injury. Barnes has 14 sacks since 2011.

Who should the Chargers put in charge? Talk about it inside the message boards.

Michael Lombardo is a long-time contributor to the network. His analysis has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and MySpace Sports. He has followed the Chargers for more than 16 years and covered the team since 2003. You can see more of his updates by following him on twitter.

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