Fly-half Marcus Smith will “benefit from game time” after being released to play for Harlequins this weekend, says England head coach Steve Borthwick.
The 24-year-old has been left out of England’s training squad for their next Six Nations match against France at Twickenham, with George Ford returning.
Smith’s omission from the 26-man group indicates he could miss out on the matchday squad to face the French.
Ford could be in line to make his first England appearance since March 2022.
England face the defending champions on Saturday, 11 March (16:45 GMT).
“I felt the best thing for Marcus was to get some game time,” explained Borthwick.
“He has had very limited game time so I felt this was a step forward for him.”
Smith started England’s defeat by Scotland but was a sparsely used replacement for the victories over Italy and Wales.
Meanwhile Ford only made his return for Sale this month after a long-standing Achilles injury, but his quick elevation over Smith shows how highly he is rated by Borthwick, with the fly-half a key part of Borthwick’s Leicester set-up that won the Premiership title last year.
“We are blessed with some fantastic fly-halves in this country,” Borthwick added.
“They all have different skill-sets and different qualities, so that means it is a great position of strength for England.
“George is looking tremendously sharp and in great condition, and is clearly a very experienced player.
“That adds to the strength we have in that position. I am looking forward to seeing Marcus play this weekend, and when you add in Owen [Farrell] and Fin Smith – who I have been hugely impressed by.
“So it shows a position where we are blessed to have a number of top-quality players.”
Elsewhere Max Malins, who has started all three matches in this year’s Six Nations, is a doubt for the meeting with the defending champions because of an ankle injury.
Experienced wing Jonny May has been called up as a replacement for Malins, while Manu Tuilagi, who is suspended for the rest of the Championship, will also train with the squad.
After defeat by Scotland in Borthwick’s first game in charge, England have rallied with hard-fought wins at home to Italy and away in Wales.
“We know we are rebuilding the team, and we know we have got a lot of work to do,” Borthwick said.
“But I would say you can start to see some foundations in place.
“I said it would be a pretty basic plan at the start – and that is what it is – but we are just trying to get the foundations right, because if you get strong foundations you can grow and build on them.”
BBC rugby correspondent Chris Jones
Although Steve Borthwick insists it is just a training squad and no decisions have been made yet on who plays against France, Ford’s inclusion over Smith this week is significant.
With every minute on the training pitch precious as Borthwick “rebuilds the squad”, it is unlikely the England boss would have sent Smith back to Harlequins if he intended to hand him a key role against the defending champions at Twickenham a week later – so it leaves Ford in line for a spot in the matchday squad and his first England appearance in a year.
While Borthwick has been at pains to praise all the fly-halves at his disposal, it is clear how highly he rates Ford, who implemented Borthwick’s gameplan to perfect effect for Leicester Tigers last season.
Forwards: Ollie Chessum, Dan Cole, Ben Curry, Alex Dombrandt, Ben Earl, Ellis Genge, Jamie George, Maro Itoje, Courtney Lawes, Lewis Ludlam, David Ribbans, Kyle Sinckler, Mako Vunipola, Jack Walker, Jack Willis.
Backs: Henry Arundell, Owen Farrell, Tommy Freeman, George Ford, Ollie Lawrence, Jonny May, Alex Mitchell, Henry Slade, Freddie Steward, Jack van Poortvliet, Anthony Watson.