LATROBE -- The load will lessen for Landry Jones with the return to the practice field of Bruce Gradkowski, who was activated off the PUP list Sunday and participated in individual drills and took snaps and handed off in the run scrimmages.
Gradkowski took one snap, handed off, and then ran back to Ben Roethlisberger for a fist bump in celebration.
Gradkowski wasn't available to reporters after practice, but Mike Tomlin said that "Bruce had been working quite a bit at the end of last week. Probably the reason we didn't bring him back last week (was) it was a short week, so no surprise that he's back out. Obviously, (it's) good to have him out."
Gradkowski missed most of the spring and the first three weeks of this camp with a shoulder injury.
Entering his third season with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Gradkowski has thrown only three passes, but all were thrown in last season's playoff game against the Baltimore Ravens. He replaced a sacked and shaken Roethlisberger on third-and-21 from the Baltimore 36 late in the third quarter with the Steelers trailing 30-15.
Jones, who's taken 136 snaps in two preseason games compared to Roethlisberger's seven snaps, has completed 39 of 78 passes for 328 yards with one interception and one touchdown. His passer rating is 60.2.Tomlin was asked to comment on Jones' progress in his third preseason.
"It's been steady progress," Tomlin said, "but obviously he's not a finished product by any means. I like the general attitude and enthusiasm that he brings to the work. He's gotten significant extra work because of what's been going on with Bruce, and it's safe to say he's taken advantage of that."
The Steelers' fourth quarterback is Tajh Boyd, while undrafted rookie QB/WR Tyler Murphy worked at wide receiver for all but a couple quarterback snaps. Tomlin at one point turned to reporters on the sideline Sunday and commended Murphy's work as a receiver.
With Lawrence Timmons still out with a toe injury, and backups Vince Williams and Jordan Zumwalt missing practice with minor injuries, the Steelers were down to Ryan Shazier, Sean Spence and Terence Garvin to work all three units at inside linebacker. So Tomlin looked around for another ILB candidate and came up with Ian Wild, the team's first-year safety.
"He was a linebacker in college. He was a linebacker in the CFL," Tomlin explained. "He got a lot of reps at safety because of some of the injuries at those positions. As some of those guys come back, it's a natural way for him to continue to get reps and show some versatility and help us in an area where the lines are short."
Wild, a 6-0, 205-pounder out of nearby Baldwin High School, didn't shy away. On his first snap he shot inside to tackle 260-pound fullback Roosevelt Nix. Wild also drew praise from Tomlin on the field for his touch-tackle of DeAngelo Williams in the open field.
With four tackles as a safety in the preseason, Wild is also the punt team's fullback, or "personal protector." So the move to ILB provides Wild with even more versatility.
At Erie's Mercyhurst University, Wild had 304 career tackles, 30.5 tackles-for-loss, 9.5 sacks, 15 passes defensed, 10 forced fumbles, two interceptions and two blocked kicks. He also led the school's lacrosse team to a national championship in 2008. Wild was originally signed as an undrafted free agent by the Buffalo Bills in 2012, but was released two weeks later and played for Winnipeg of the Canadian Football League from 2013-14.
Because Timmons missed practice with the Steelers having such low numbers at inside linebacker, Tomlin was asked if Timmons' injury is "significant."
"I wouldn't tag 'significant' on it," Tomlin said. "I like Lawrence, so I'm going to take care of Lawrence."
"Don't know the severity of that," Tomlin said of Nelson's injury. "We'll get him evaluated. It's a big week for him, having to acclimate himself and trying to etch out a role so we can take him in stadiums to see what he's capable of."
Returning to practice Sunday were safeties Mike Mitchell and Robert Golden, and NT Daniel McCullers. Mitchell lined up with Shamarko Thomas for the first in pads as the Steelers' first-team safeties, and Tomlin was asked how he gauged the importance of those two working together.
"Pretty big," he said. "I think that's why we come to camp, to develop cohesion and understanding, not only in terms of what we do but those we work with. They're no different than anybody else in that regard."
* During one-on-ones, Markus Wheaton made another terrific catch after running under a deep bomb from Roethlisberger.
* During the run-heavy scrimmage, Williams impressed with a pair of cutback runs up the middle. It seemed to inspire Le'Veon Bell, who answered with an even more impressive run on the third snap.
* During the second team session, Roethlisberger let go of a pass that must've slipped off his hand. "Aw, dang it!" Roethlisberger shouted as he released the ball. But Brown went up over Cortez Allen to snag the pass anyway.
* Jones stepped under center for the next snap and hit Martavis Bryant in stride on a post pattern that Bryant took to the end zone.
* In "Special Cat," an all-third down, no-huddle team period, Roethlisberger converted three of six attempts, with all three of the successes caught by Brown.
* On third-and-five, Bud Dupree jumped offside to make Tomlin livid. Tomlin stopped practice to continue the conversation.