To link conformational transitions noted for DNA polymerases with kinetic results describing catalytic efficiency and fidelity, we investigate the role of key DNA polymerase beta residues on subdomain motion through simulations of five single-residue mutants: Arg-283-Ala, Tyr-271-Ala, Asp-276-Val, Arg-258-Lys, and Arg-258-Ala. Since a movement toward a closed state was only observed for R258A, we suggest that Arg(258) is crucial in modulating motion preceding chemistry. Analyses of protein/DNA interactions in the mutant active site indicate distinctive hydrogen bonding and van der Waals patterns arising from compensatory structural adjustments. By comparing closed mutant complexes with the wild-type enzyme, we interpret experimentally derived nucleotide binding affinities in molecular terms: R283A (decreased), Y271A (increased), D276V (increased), and R258A (decreased). Thus, compensatory interactions (e.g., in Y271A with adjacent residues Phe(272), Asn(279), and Arg(283)) increase the overall binding affinity for the incoming nucleotide although direct interactions may decrease. Together with energetic analyses, we predict that R258G might increase the rate of nucleotide insertion and maintain enzyme fidelity as R258A; D276L might increase the nucleotide binding affinity more than D276V; and R283A/K280A might decrease the nucleotide binding affinity and increase misinsertion more than R283A. The combined observations regarding key roles of specific residues (e.g., Arg(258)) and compensatory interactions echo the dual nature of polymerase active site, namely versatility (to accommodate various basepairs) and specificity (for preserving fidelity) and underscore an organized but pliant active site essential to enzyme function.