(By John McDonnell / The Washington Post)

First-year Redskins General Manager Scot McCloughan has been in Washington all of seven months, after spending the bulk of his professional career on the West Coast. But McCloughan seems to have a keen sense of what to say to a fan base that has been treated to mediocrity and hype for the past two decades, and that desperately wants something different.

The new GM continues to pound all the right keys in interviews, promising a patient rebuild, an embrace of the draft, a move away from free agency, a de-emphasis on the quarterback position, and a memorable style of football. Witness, for example, this unusually realistic statement to SiriusXM NFL Radio on Monday.

“You know what, we’re not gonna be the best team out there this year,” McCloughan told Jim Miller and Pat Kirwan. “But the one thing that I emphasized — and I told them in the opening meeting — was listen, I want us to compete every day: on the field and off the field. Find a way to make yourself a better player, and a better person. And I think we’ve done that so far. We’ve got a ways to go, but we’re going in the right direction. We’re taking small steps; we’re going in the right direction.”

[ESPN 980 to lead preseason coverage with Chris Cooley ad]

The Redskins, of course, added several potential contributors  in free agency during the offseason, but they were mostly on the younger side, and mostly on modest deals. They weren’t, in other words, older, overpaid guys on their last legs.

“Correct, and that’s important,” McCloughan said. “My plan is when it’s all said and done — like we did in Seattle, like we did in San Fran — is draft very well, identify who your guys are and re-sign ’em. Free agency, it’s a tool you have to use because it’s out there and you make your team better, but I don’t want to live in that, because they’re not yours. You don’t know them from the training room, you don’t know them from the film, you don’t know them from the locker room. So that’s why I think it’s important to have more picks and just get football players.”

McCloughan praised a number of his later-round picks, especially fourth-round guard Arie KouandjioHe also convincingly dismissed concerns over rookie first-rounder Brandon Scherff’s apparent move to guard, which would be an unusual position for a No. 5 overall pick. McCloughan said Scherff could even play “possibly center when it’s all said and done,” and said the rookie “doesn’t care if he plays quarterback; he just wants to be on the field to make plays.”

“Is he the most talented guy? Absolutely not,” McCloughan said. “But you know what, you put the whole package together as  a person: competitiveness, toughness, smarts, and what [offensive line coach Bill Callahan’s] looking for, that’s exactly what I want. I don’t need five all-pros every year. Give me five guys that are gonna fight together, battle together and play together. And [I’m] not knocking him, because I’m sure he’ll be a Pro Bowler. He’s got the ability to do that. But just the whole package was very important to me. My first pick, I wanted to prove to everybody — it’s a football player.”

McCloughan said he watched every game new linebacker Junior Galette played over the past two seasons, and that the former Saint “could have 10 more” sacks in that span. He also said he met with each of the team’s three quarterbacks individually before training camp, stressing that the way to win football games was to rely on the other players around them.

“That’s why it’s important to me to fix the offensive line, get some bigger guys in there, get a big running back to run downhill,” he said. “I want them to understand it’s not about them, understand it’s a very important position, but it’s one of 11 on offense. And the defense is gonna take care of them, too, and the special teams is gonna take care of them, and let’s win as a team and lose as a team. That’s the way it’s gonna have to work, no matter what.”

McCloughan also said that he told the team’s college and pro scouts to worry less about finding the biggest, fastest and strongest players, and more about finding football players. Which is why he also offered $100 cash to any scout responsible for finding an undrafted free agent who makes the 53-man roster.

“Everybody thinks the first round’s the most important,” he said. “Absolutely not. My seventh-round pick’s as important to me as my first-round pick.”