Lewis attempts to add youth to linebacker unit

In a move Tuesday that likely fast-tracks first-round draft pick David Pollack into the lineup, the Cincinnati Bengals released starting strong-side linebacker Kevin Hardy.

Even before the Bengals chose Pollack with the 17th overall selection two weekends ago, there was speculation that Hardy, who started 30 games in his two seasons in Cincinnati, might not make it to training camp. Hardy was due a base salary of $2.8 million this season. By releasing him, the Bengals created roughly $1 million in cap room.

But beyond the financial ramifications, the jettisoning of Hardy was made just as much to open a spot for Pollack, the former University of Georgia star who is being asked to make the transition from college defensive end to NFL linebacker. While Pollack conceded he felt "awkward" at times in last weekend's mini-camp, coach Marvin Lewis praised his performance and cited his ability to quickly assimilate the defense.

Hardy, 31, was one of the first unrestricted free agent acquisitions for Lewis in 2003 and immediately bought into the then-rookie coach's program. Releasing a veteran who was so respected both on the field and in the locker room was a tough call, Lewis allowed.

"Kevin's leadership and abilities and professionalism have been a huge asset to me and to our football team, and this is a difficult decision to make," Lewis said in a statement.

A nine-year veteran, Hardy began his career as a first-round pick of Jacksonville's in 1996, the second player chosen overall that year, and he spent his first six NFL seasons with the Jaguars. He signed with Dallas in 2002 and then Cincinnati the following year.

After playing outside linebacker his entire career, Hardy moved to the middle in 2003 to help fill a huge void in Lewis' defense, and he led the Bengals in snaps played that year. Last season, Hardy moved back to his more familiar strong-side linebacker slot, starting in 14 of his 16 appearances and registering 84 tackles.

For his career, the onetime Pro Bowl performer has 1,111 tackles, 36 sacks, 12 forced fumbles, seven recoveries, five interceptions and 44 passes defensed. The former Illinois player has appeared in 134 games, starting 128. Only twice in nine seasons has Hardy failed to appear in all 16 games.

The release of Hardy continues the Bengals' shakeup at linebacker. There figure to be two new starters this season as Lewis attempts to add youth to the unit.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.