Bucs' Masifilo transitions from defense to offensive line

Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive lineman Matthew Masifilo (55) lunges toward linebacker Jason Williams (52) at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers training camp on Sunday, Aug. 9 at Bucs Headquarters in Tampa.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive lineman Matthew Masifilo (55) lunges toward linebacker Jason Williams (52) at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers training camp on Sunday, Aug. 9 at Bucs Headquarters in Tampa.
Published Aug. 13, 2015

TAMPA — Matthew Masifilo had been cut five times — twice by the 49ers and on three other occasions by the Bucs — since he entered the NFL in 2012. He knew the routine. Work your butt off in training camp. A knock on your door. The "Turk" tells you the coach wants to see you and to bring your playbook.

So the defensive tackle quit. An offensive lineman took his place. Thankfully for Masifilo, they were the same guy.

"When you get to a critical point, business either has to adapt or pivot and hopefully thrive," Masifilo said.

The Bucs moved Masifilo to guard in the offseason, a position he had not played since high school. After one week of training camp, he had moved up to the second-team offense. Tuesday, with Logan Mankins falling ill halfway through practice, he was taking starting reps at left guard.

At 6 feet 3 and 280 pounds, Masifilo is a little undersized for the position. But he checks a lot of other boxes.

"When we looked at it, we had some guys we liked on the defensive side," coach Lovie Smith said. "Maybe Matt wasn't quite what you were looking for at that position. But (he has) all the other things you love. Nobody works harder. He's strong, tough …"

Masifilo, 25, has one other characteristic shared by most offensive linemen: He's smart.

The Stanford graduate can handle the voluminous presnap information that has to be processed while trying to focus on mechanics such as foot and hand placement. That's typically what derails most players trying to transition from defensive to offensive line, especially in the NFL.

"It's a different type of play," offensive line coach George Warhop said. "D-line is looking for 'get off.' They might look at a backfield formation. But they're not looking at fronts and (middle linebacker) points and safety rotation and all that stuff. It's not a part of their DNA."

Though Masifilo hasn't always been able to handle the physical aspects of the league at defensive tackle, his biggest strengths are his curiosity and his thirst for learning. The challenge has been refreshing for him.

"It just feels like you're learning football for the first time because it's a completely different ball game," Masifilo said. "It's one step at a time for me. I'm not trying to memorize everything at one time. I'm trying to worry about the day and move on."

Born and raised in Ewa Beach, Hawaii, Masifilo is proud of his Polynesian roots. Ever the entrepreneur, he has developed a way of making a drink from kava, which is extracted from a Polynesian root.

Kava produces a drink that has sedative and anesthetic properties, sort of the anti-coffee or cup of java, if you will.

"I saw an opportunity to bring the Tongan and Polynesian culture by starting that company," Masifilo said. "Really, it's just a simple way to make it. I invented a method and apparatus to make kava in a shaker bottle.

"It's great to drink kava after a long practice or a stressful day because it relaxes your mind and helps your focus. In the South Pacific, especially in Tonga, every day men work farming the land, and at night they go to the town hall and drink kava. That's where the village bonds and they resolve issues.

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"It's a good fit in the locker room. It's been good for bonding in the offseason. At the end of the week, we would sit around and get to know each other and make kava. Guys like it. That's why I say it's a good fit for football."

And for once, Masifilo seems like a good fit for the Bucs at guard.

"He's done a remarkable job. Most impressed," Warhop said. "Now, he's still a work in progress. He's a superbright kid; he gets it. He's got some technique work he has to get through. But I'm really impressed with him."