DENVER (AP) – Jay Cutler’s been the Denver Broncos’ starting quarterback all of one practice and he’s already a rattled rookie.

Cutler was playing it cool in his first interview at the podium when fellow rookies Brandon Marshall and Tony Scheffler began heckling him from the side. Cutler tried to keep from laughing and couldn’t.

“I’m excited,” Cutler said. “And a little nervous.”

The Cutler Era has officially started. Coach Mike Shanahan ended the speculation Monday by elevating the rookie to starting quarterback for the rest of the year, sending Jake Plummer to the bench.

“He’s our future, he’s our present,” Shanahan said.

Cutler, the 11th pick out of Vanderbilt in the draft last April, hasn’t taken a snap since the preseason. But Shanahan is hoping a quarterback change can ignite the Broncos’ struggling offense. The team is 7-4, but ranks 26th in the league with 171 yards passing per game.

“There’s a lot of pressure on a first-year quarterback, no question about it,” Shanahan said. “I think this kid can handle it. I think he gives us the best chance to win.”

His teammates figure it’s worth the chance.

“With the losing streak we’re on, it doesn’t hurt to try,” receiver Javon Walker said. “If he does (well), we’ll ride it all the way out. If not, obviously he’s our quarterback of the future.”

A quarterback switch worked in Dallas when Tony Romo took over for Drew Bledsoe. The Cowboys have gone 4-1 with Romo as the starter.

. San Diego is leading the AFC West behind first-year starter Philip Rivers.

When asked if the situations were comparable, Shanahan was blunt.

“No,” he said.

Cutler, though, feels like he’s in a better situation than Tennessee’s Vince Young and Arizona’s Matt Leinart, both of whom were drafted ahead of him and are starting for teams with losing records.

“Matt and Vince have to go out there and really win games,” said Cutler, who’s the first rookie quarterback to start for Denver since Tommy Maddox on Dec. 12, 1992, at Buffalo. Maddox started for an injured John Elway. “We’ve got a good team. We’ve got leaders on this team. I need to go out there and do my part.”

Cutler had an impressive preseason for Denver, throwing for 561 yards, third best in the NFL. Romo led the league with 833 yards passing in exhibition play. Cutler’s passer rating of 108.3 led the league in the preseason.

“Preseason is preseason. I don’t put a lot of stock in it,” Cutler said. “This is a different animal. We’re playing for real now.”

Cutler is the latest in line of Broncos quarterbacks attempting to become the ‘next John Elway.’ He knows the comparisons will be inevitable.

Not that Cutler would want Elway’s rookie debut. The Hall of Famer was 1-of-8 for 14 yards and one interception against Pittsburgh on Sept. 4, 1983. Denver did win 14-10.

Shanahan thinks Cutler’s situation is different from what Elway went through.

“You look at a quarterback (in Elway) that really didn’t have, at least in my opinion, a great supporting cast,” Shanahan said. “All the pressure was on the quarterback. I think it’s almost impossible for a guy to come in his first year without a supporting cast and be successful.”

The Broncos have the supporting cast. This is the same basic team that went to the AFC championship game last year.

“Sometimes things like this are a wakeup that everyone’s got to look at themselves in the mirror and say, ‘What can we do better?”‘ safety John Lynch said. “Everyone’s got to do their job better.”

In his first practice as the starter, Cutler was pumped up, sending several passes over the heads of receivers. There was no question he had extra velocity on his throws.

“Everyone’s saying he’s a young Brett Favre,” said Walker, who played with Favre in Green Bay. “You can see that in the strength of his arm. It gets there in a hurry. After the more reps we get together, it should work out.”

Shanahan said he won’t scale back the playbook for Cutler.

“For us to make the decision we’ve made, we feel very comfortable he’s got complete knowledge of the offense,” he said.

Plummer will be relegated to backup duty for basically the first time in his 10-year career. He’s 39-15 as Denver’s starter in the regular season, 1-3 in the playoffs. Shanahan and Plummer have the fifth-best regular-season winning percentage – with a minimum 50 starts – since 1970.

Cutler said he and Plummer spoke after they were informed of the flip-flop in their roles.

“He told me it didn’t change anything between me and him and he’s going to be here for me,” Cutler said.

Plummer wouldn’t talk with reporters after practice.

Plummer has thrown 11 touchdown passes and 12 interceptions this season. He threw only seven interceptions last year.

“I don’t think he obviously likes the move,” Shanahan said. “Any competitor would not like the move. He’s going to do everything he can to help this football team.”

Plummer has three years left on his contract, but no guaranteed money after this season.

“Would I like him here long-term?” Shanahan said. “As long as he’d like to be here. I’d love him in that (backup) role if he wants to be in that role. I think time will tell.”

The Broncos, coming off two straight losses for the first time in two years, host the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday night. Shanahan doesn’t think the prime-time game will rattle the rookie.

“What’s the difference? A game is a game,” Shanahan said. “You’ve got to go out there and perform. He’ll handle it well.”

AP-ES-11-27-06 2011EST

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