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Welcome to Thunderdome: Position battles at Seahawks training camp

Rookie Justin Britt (pictured) and Michael Bowie are competing to be the Seahawks’ starting right tackle. (AP)

It’s that time of year when the NFL is made to sound like Thunderdome.

The training-camp battles, tests of strength and valor as two men compete for a single starting position or the last roster spot or in some cases the chance to be the No. 1 clipboard-holder behind the starting quarterback.

Now, forget for a minute that players will continue competing for playing time throughout the season (at least in Seattle), and that a guy who doesn’t make the team in August can be back on the squad in September (happens all the time).

But in the spirit of training-camp preparation, here’s a cheat sheet for five of the very best competitions on the Seahawks’ food chain this season:

1. Right tackle

When offensive-line coach Tom Cable talks, we listen. Intently. And when he called the competition between Michael Bowie and Justin Britt the tightest he’s had in Seattle, well, that caught our attention. Bowie was a seventh-round pick in 2013 who had the most starts of any Seahawks rookie last season while Britt is a rookie second-round pick with a huge frame and loads of toughness. Bowie’s conditioning is something Cable mentioned as a question mark, so that will be something to watch early in camp, but with Breno Giacomini gone, the Seahawks have both a vacancy at starting right tackle and a need for someone to fill Giacomini’s role as the agitator and enforcer on the line.

2. Back-up tight end

The realistic expectation for Luke Willson last season was to be the No. 3 tight end, someone whose speed could be a deep threat on a handful of plays. That was before Seattle’s backup, Anthony McCoy, suffered an offseason Achilles injury that sunk his 2013 season. Well, Willson improved throughout a rookie season that was impressive enough to make him a breakout candidate. He’s already shown he can be a more consistent receiving threat than McCoy – who has had some noteworthy drops – but the real question will come down to blocking. McCoy won’t ever be mistaken for a blocking specialist, but he is bigger and stronger. This is one to watch.

3. Punt returner

Special teams has been one of Seattle’s hallmarks since Pete Carroll took over as coach, and last year the Seahawks had one of the top punt returners in the league in Golden Tate. This year, Seattle has a slew of candidates from two of the NFL’s best defensive players in Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas to a sure-handed receiver like Doug Baldwin or Bryan Walters to an explosive speedster like Paul Richardson, who hasn’t done it before. Special-teams drills can be an overlooked part of practice. Not this year. Everyone will be watching to see who has an edge.

4. Outside linebackers

This is a question complicated by health. Super Bowl MVP Malcolm Smith missed much of the offseason after undergoing ankle surgery. Bruce Irvin was out beginning in June because of hip surgery. They were the team’s two strong-side linebackers last season. With the pair out, rookie Kevin Pierre-Louis saw time in the first unit. The fourth-round pick out of Boston College is a weakside linebacker. K.J. Wright’s versatility – he’s started at all three linebacker positions for Seattle – gives the Seahawks some flexibility, but the rotation is going to be something worth watching, especially early in training camp.

5. Backup safety

Chris Maragos was free safety Earl Thomas’ speedy backup the past two years. He signed in Philadelphia, which leaves an opening in the back. Jeron Johnson is established as the team’s top backup safety, but this season the Seahawks will have a look at rookies like Eric Pinkins, the sixth-round pick out of San Diego State, and Dion Bailey, who was undrafted out of USC. Terrance Parks, who spent last season in the CFL, is another player who merited mention from coaches this offseason.