FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas coach Bret Bielema was surprised when cornerback Tevin Mitchel approached him with a request a few weeks ago.

FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas coach Bret Bielema was surprised when cornerback Tevin Mitchel approached him with a request a few weeks ago.

The senior, who had offseason shoulder surgery, was struggling with a hamstring injury. It was going to keep him off the field for at least two games. So Mitchel wondered aloud if he should just sit out the entire season and return in 2015.

"I went, ‘whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa,’" Bielema said Monday. "Let’s rehab. Let’s kind of continue to go, and see where you go, and just kind of built him up."

The door has closed on Mitchel’s redshirt request after the Texas native made his season debut in Arkansas’ 49-28 win at Texas Tech. Arkansas’ most experienced cornerback is healthy, started in the defense’s nickel package and played a big role in helping the Razorbacks collect their best win under Bielema.

Mitchel recorded five tackles. He also broke up two passes on the first series, setting the tone for a defense that collected 11 break ups and two interceptions in the win. Mitchel acknowledged afterward there was growing talk of redshirting the season, but said it was "amazing" to be back after watching the first two games.

"That’s something we were going to do depending on how my hamstring was feeling," Mitchel said. "I give a lot of thanks to our training staff. They’ve been working hard with me. It was a hard process, but it turned out pretty good."

It happened just in time, too. It appears Arkansas was running out of time to make a decision on Mitchel’s availability this season.

Bielema first mentioned the possibility of redshirting the cornerback after he missed the Auburn game because of the bad hamstring, which Mitchel suffered in preseason camp. He raised the stakes a week later, saying the Razorbacks likely would choose that course if Mitchel wasn’t part of the game plan for Texas Tech.

But Mitchel practiced last Tuesday. He got more work Wednesday.

Suddenly, he was a big part of Arkansas’ plans for the Red Raiders.

"It just happened a couple days," Mitchel said. "I felt like I was pretty good and just kept working with it. Knowing I was playing Texas Tech, I just got excited because that’s a great game to come back to."

Bielema also indicated something else may have been at work as well. He thinks Arkansas’ success in the 73-7 win against Nicholls State provided some motivation.

"All of a sudden he started seeing some guys having fun and he’s like, ‘Wait a minute. Why do I want to miss that when I can do this?’" Bielema said.

Either way, Arkansas is glad to have Mitchel back to bolster a group of cornerbacks that include Carroll Washington, Jared Collins, D.J. Dean and Henre’ Toliver.

He’s expected to be part of the defensive plan once again when the Razorbacks (2-1, 0-1 in SEC) play Northern Illinois (3-0) on Saturday at 6 p.m.

Mitchel brings experience to the group after starting 25 games. The experiences haven’t always been good ones, of course. But defensive coordinator Robb Smith said the benefit of having Mitchel on the field was evident at Texas Tech.

"It showed right away in the first series," Smith said. "We got a three-and-out there and he was a big part of that on two of those three plays. It just kind of helped us from a depth standpoint. We rolled quite a few guys through there. Just a little bit more of a veteran presence, and he’s a great athlete. He really helped us out."

Arkansas had those high hopes for Mitchel even after his struggles in 2013.

The cornerback returned an interception for a touchdown at Rutgers, but was beaten for big plays on several occasions. Mitchel, who finished fifth on the team in tackles (47), was replaced by Dean in the starting lineup for the final two games.

His confidence seemed to improve when Smith and defensive backs coach Clay Jennings joined the staff. Bielema regarded Mitchel as one of the team’s most improved players even though injuries have limited his practice time.

"I came in with a clean slate and I think he embraced that mentality and we started from scratch a little bit," Smith said. "I know Coach Jennings has done a great job with him. He’s earned the right to play with some confidence. This past spring he had a really nice spring, and the limited opportunities he’s had this fall, he’s done some nice things. It was great to see him have a little success (last Saturday)."

But Arkansas wants Mitchel to build off the solid start.

At 6-foot, 190 pounds, he is one of Arkansas’ most physical cornerbacks and will be matched up with plenty of talented receivers. Smith believes Mitchel can give Arkansas an edge with his size and flexibility. He’ll line up in the slot or on either side of the field, helping the Razorbacks now that the redshirt discussion has ended.

"Those are the kind of expectations we have for him, and we’ve got to do a good job of managing him and helping him stay healthy," Smith said. "But he was certainly a big pick-me-up for our defense (Saturday)."