On his first play of practice as Cleveland's starting quarterback, Brady Quinn caught a pass behind the line of scrimmage before stepping up and launching the ball deep down field.

CLEVELAND — On his first play of practice as Cleveland's starting quarterback, Brady Quinn caught a pass behind the line of scrimmage before stepping up and launching the ball deep down field.

As he approached the goal line, wide receiver Braylon Edwards, whose season has been defined by drops, had to accelerate to get his hands on the ball. He held onto this one.

"It's warmups, Brady," complained Edwards.

Not anymore. Practice is over.

It's game time for Quinn.

Following another strange few days in Cleveland, where football freakishness has ruled for years, Quinn, the former Notre Dame golden boy with Ohio pedigree and pop idol looks, makes his NFL starting debut Thursday night as the struggling Browns (3-5) host the Denver Broncos (4-4).

In front of 70,000 fans and an NFL Network audience, Quinn will get to live out the dream he has had since growing up in the Columbus area rooting for the Browns. He'll face the Broncos, the Browns' longtime nemesis, who have wrecked so many promising Cleveland playoff runs in the past.

"Knock wood, I hope the guy doesn't fall on his face," Browns coach Romeo Crennel said.

Crennel's decision — at least that's the party line — to bench Derek Anderson in favor of Quinn could be a risky gamble for the Browns, who thought it was so nice to have two quality quarterbacks and now have to hold their breath that they have at least one.

Anderson's demotion sent shockwaves through the locker room as teammates wondered why he was being singled out for the team's many woes.

"Nobody saw it coming," linebacker Willie McGinest said. "I don't think it's one person why we're losing. When we lose, we lose as a team."

A sixth-round draft pick who worked his way up from No. 3 on the depth chart all the way to the Pro Bowl in three seasons, Anderson was blindsided by Crennel's choice to hand the ball off to Quinn. Back to being an understudy, Anderson wouldn't bite when asked if he felt Crennel acted alone in making the decision.

"I respect Romeo and what he's done," said Anderson, who signed a three-year, $24 million free-agent deal to stay with Cleveland, "and that's as far as I want to go."

Cleveland's lousy record isn't all Anderson's fault. Edwards has dropped 14 passes, including a sure touchdown in last week's loss to Baltimore.

Edwards took exception to the idea that he might have cost Anderson his job.

"Yes, I wish I would have caught that pass," Edwards snapped. "Should I have caught that pass? Yes. Have I thought about it? Yes. But if I catch that pass, is D.A. still the starter? I mean what kind of question is that? If coach feels like that was the move to make, then that's the move to make."

Crennel, a former defensive coordinator, rebuffed the notion that he succumbed to public pressure in swapping QBs. But he acknowledged hearing the chants for Quinn and the boos which rained down on Anderson after he threw a late interception in Sunday's loss to Baltimore.

Anderson played superbly for three quarters before throwing the ball directly at Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs, who returned it for a TD to seal a 37-27 win.

"Generally I don't think they have my telephone number," Crennel said. "I haven't been fielding calls from the fans. I made the decision, what I think is best and what I think needs to be done."

Quinn's ascension to starter in his 25th game as a pro leaves the Browns with a much smaller safety net if he doesn't live up to expectations. The team traded away two draft picks, one of them a first-rounder in 2008, to select Quinn, who didn't make his NFL debut until last season's finale. He went 3-of-8 for 45 yards and led the Browns to a field goal.

He was seen as Cleveland's future — and it has arrived.

Although he's had a short week to prepare, Quinn should benefit from playing against Denver's defense, which is ranked among the AFC's worst. Seeing Anderson get demoted could be a concern, but the 24-year-old said he isn't worried about long-term job security.

"Honestly, I'm not looking past this week," he said. "The biggest thing is getting a win this week. I'm not looking at eight games. I'm looking at one game."