I'm not looking at the whole D, just the interior defense line. Our 3rd round rookies, Fua and McClain, got put on IR with 4 games left in the season but that's ok because this is where I get optimistic. After they went down we starting the following and this is what they did.
Nose Tackle (The big body guy who takes on 2 blockers most of the time)
Jason Shirley - 4 solo tackles, 2.5 sacks and 1 FF.
Frank Kearse - 7 solo tackles, .5 sacks and 1 pass defended.
DT, 3 technique (The smaller 300 lbs guy who tries to rush the passer)
Andre NeBlett - 8 solo tackles, 1.5 sacks
I've only went back and looked at stats so I have no idea who else they put out there. Nwagbuo played one game but that's it. They may have just rotated them and used Applewhite or another DE to play some DT. Those are pretty good numbers from players with very little experience.
I also found this quote from CBSsportsline.
Shirley, rookie Frank Kearse, and second-year pro Andre Neblett have been a boon to the run defense as well. Despite losing rookie starters Terrell McClain and Sione Fua, the Panthers have improved to 21st in run defense, allowing just 95.6 yards per during a 4-1 stretch.
With getting Ron Edwards back and with the play of Kearse and especially Shirely I think we're actually pretty freakin good at the NT position. The 3 technique DT position really does need an upgrade. Neblett is ok but should just be a rotational player. Hopefully Sua and McClain coming into their 2nd year will show a lot of improvement. If McClain, defensive scheme, or somebody we pick up can improve the 3-technique DT position we'll be really strong inside.
At the very least with the play of Shirley, Kearse and getting Edwards back I dont' see any problems with our linebackers being able to run free and wreak havoc.
All I saying is that when Ron Rivera says he feels good about our defensive tackle postion he actually mean it.